LONDON, June 27, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A motion to push the British Medical Association to take a “natural” stance on euthanasia and assisted suicide was voted down at the doctors’ union annual meeting in Bournemouth on Wednesday. The motion was put forward by activists as part of a larger effort to loosen the assisted suicide law in Parliament.
Attempts to legalise assisted suicide, which remains in the criminal code but virtually impossible to prosecute under current rules, should be actively and formally opposed by physicians’ associations, the membership of the union membership decided.
Last week, the British Medical Journal, the unofficial voice of the BMA, published three articles, two of which were by leaders of the pressure group Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD), pushing for assisted suicide. The third was an official BMJ editorial, also in favor of assisted suicide.
In the BMJ editorial, Professor Raymond Tallis, a retired professor of geriatric medicine and chairman of HPAD, wrote, “At the heart of the case for neutrality is that the decriminalisation of assisted dying should be a matter for society as a whole to decide, and no particular group should have disproportionate influence on this decision.”
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Originally, euthanasia lobbyists had put forward 14 separate motions asking the BMA to adopt official “neutrality” on efforts to liberalise the law. The rejected motion said, “that this meeting: i) believes that assisted dying is a matter for society and not for the medical profession; ii) believes that the BMA should adopt a neutral position on change in the law on assisted dying.”
This is the second attempt; nine motions asking for the BMA to adopt a “neutral” position were brought forward at last year’s meeting.
Opposing the motion, Dr. Dai Samuels said assisting a suicide was not an “act of kindness” but was akin to murder.
“I simply stand for looking after my patients and providing high-quality care. I do not consider the killing of patients, whatever the reason, is justified. That is murder and I cannot commit that offence,” Samuels said.
Dr. Hamish Meldrum, the BMA’s outgoing chairman, called the proposal “probably the worst of all options,” saying it would do nothing but exclude doctors from the debate.
“The medical profession is not only part of society,” he said, “but it would be members of the medical profession that would have to carry out the wishes of society were there to be a change in the law.”
“I think adopting a neutral position is probably the worst of all options. Neutrality does tend to exclude us from the argument, an argument which would have a huge bearing on the working lives of doctors.”
Meldrun said that he does not come from a “strong religious view” on the issue, but that in 40 years of general practice he had always “been able, in almost every occasion, to support my patients when they were dying without having to actively end their lives.”
The BMA’s refusal, again, to back away from the euthanasia question is likely to put a damper on further attempts to liberalise the law. Groups in favor are planning a mass lobbying effort in Parliament for which the passage of the motions at the BMA meeting was intended to be a wedge. Euthanasia activists are also waiting on a High Court decision in the case of Tony Nicklinson, a paralysed man who is petitioning the courts to allow his wife to legally kill him. Nicklinson’s lawyers presented their arguments last week.
Dr. Peter Saunders, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said, “In rejecting this move the BMA has sent out a strong message that doctors must play a leading role in this debate which could otherwise be far too easily swayed by celebrity endorsement and media outlets who have consistently acted as the cheerleaders for assisted suicide and euthanasia.”
Saunders called the number of motions put forward at the meeting an “unprecedented” assault on medical ethics. A total of 45 motions on ethics were presented at this year’s meeting, of which 33 dealt with either abortion or euthanasia. Of these, 20 motions dealt with euthanasia or assisted suicide, with 14 supporting a relaxation of the BMA’s position and only 6 supporting the current position opposing a change in the law.
Saunders noted that, because it is a trade union, the British Medical Association is susceptible to such moves by small pressure groups. The good news, according to the CMF, is that this is the work of a very small number of activists whose groups are interconnected. Professor Raymond Tallis is the head of HPAD but is also a member of Britain’s leading euthanasia campaign group, Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Tallis is one of only 520 registered members of HPAD, a number that amounts to 0.25 percent of all working physicians in the UK.
According to the newsletter sent to supporters, DID is planning a mass lobby of Parliament July 4, to coincide with a day conference where British celebrities like Sir Terry Pratchett will address supporters. Among the legislative plans is the launching of a private members’ bill that was drafted by euthanasia activists that they hope will usher in another public consultation.
“Their glossy propaganda inserts are spilling out of commercial publications; they are spending hundreds of thousands; and clearly believe this is their year,” Saunders said.