British Medical Association remains opposed to assisted suicide

The British Medical Association, the trade union for doctors in the United Kingdom, has maintained its stance against assisted dying despite the pressure it received to "go neutral" on the subject.

A woman holds the hand of her mother who is dying from cancer during her final hours at a palliative care hospital in Winnipeg July 24, 2010. Picture taken July 24, 2010. | REUTERS/SHAUN BEST

"I am delighted this attempt to force the BMA into a position of neutrality on assisted suicide has failed," said CARE Chief Executive Nola Leach, as quoted by Premier. "This was a cynical effort to try and silence a respected opponent of assisted suicide and it is clear a move towards neutrality would have been a stepping stone towards full support for assisted suicide."

At the Annual Representatives Meeting in Belfast on June 21, 63 percent voted against taking a neutral stance on the issue -- 198 of 313 wanted the group to continue to oppose assisted dying, a wide margin to the 115 who voted in favor of neutrality, the report says.

"Adopting a neutral position on this ethically charged issue would have been highly dangerous and it would also have represented a colossal failure of leadership," said Leach.

The BMA has said before that it "opposes all forms of assisted dying" and supports the legal position that "allows compassionate and ethical care for the dying." They insist that physician-assisted suicide, voluntary euthanasia, and non-voluntary euthanasia should not be made legal in the U.K., and in the case that euthanasia does become legal, "there should be a clear demarcation between those doctors who would be involved in it and those who would not."

Among those who have been calling for the BMA to take a neutral stance is the group Dignity in Dying, formerly called the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

"Unsurprisingly, the BMA has chosen to remain opposed to assisted dying," said Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying. "By making this decision, the BMA is not only wilfully ignoring the evidence but also the suffering of dying patients. In an attempt to stifle debate, opponents of assisted dying speaking during the debate accused members of the public who were handing out briefings outside of intimidation - a disgraceful and entirely false claim which highlights their dismissal of public opinion."

The BMA's position is not in line with that of the general public, said Wootton, as only 7 percent agree with the BMA opposing assisted dying. On the other hand, 82 percent support it, and 84 percent think that BMA should change its stance.

"The BMA has never surveyed its own members about their views on assisted dying," she said. "How can it claim to speak on behalf of 170,000 doctors across the UK without ever having asked them what they think?"

In September 2015, Members of Parliaments voted 330-118 against a bill that would legalize assisted suicide.