LONDON, June 18, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – One of the top peer review journals in the medical field has formally adopted a stand in favor of legalized euthanasia, telling British doctors’ associations that they must adopt a “neutral” stand and never oppose efforts to liberalize the law.
In its latest edition three articles, including one formal editorial and two op-eds, lash out against the opposition to euthanasia or assisted suicide among medical professional bodies, saying it is a matter to be decided by the public.
Two of the leading figures in the campaign to legalize euthanasia were given space for emotional appeals. In one article Tess McPherson, a consultant dermatologist at Churchill Hospital, describes at length her mother’s death by cancer. “It is simple,” she concludes, “the law needs to change to allow terminally ill but mentally competent people the right to a more dignified death than my mum was allowed.”
In his article, Dr. Raymond Tallis, emeritus professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Manchester and chairman of the Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD), argues that all principled opposition to “assisted dying” by medical professional groups like the Royal College of Physicians must stop.
“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,” Tallis wrote. Without the formal opposition of the medical profession, Tallis believes, the law could be changed on the basis of public opinion which, he says, is strongly in favor.
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“Our professional organisations, committed to shaking off the paternalism of the past, should not use their influence to impose the beliefs of some of their members on patients.”
Tallis accused “religious institutions” of organizing groups of doctors to oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide to create the impression that all doctors are opposed. While the BMA and Royal Collage of Physicians and the Medical Association are officially opposed to liberalizing the law, Tallis cites a study showing that 30 to 40 per cent of doctors favor decriminalization. HPAD’s 520 members represents about 0.25 per cent of the estimated 200,000 doctors in Britain.
Currently, the act of assisting a suicide remains on the criminal code books, with a potential 14-year prison sentence, but the Director of Public Prosecutions has changed the rules so that prosecutions are close to impossible.
Retaining official opposition to “assisted dying,” Tallis said, is a form of “monstrous cruelty” in which doctors are “walking away” from patients who are “suffering unbearably.”
“International experience has shown that placing assisted dying within the framework of the law would increase, not threaten, patient safety and have an entirely beneficial effect on trust in doctors,” Tallis added.
The third article was an editorial by BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee who said the journal formally ‘supports’ HPAD’s call. This is not the first time the BMJ has shown its editorial bias in favor of legalized euthanasia; deputy editor Tony Delamothe has previously written in favor, and is a public HPAD supporter.
The BMJ articles are part of a larger campaign being orchestrated by HPAD, with the support of Britain’s leading pro-euthanasia pressure group Dignity in Dying, that has included pushing the issue at an upcoming meeting of the British Medical Association, the doctors’ trade union. Euthanasia lobbyists are attempting to use the June 27th meeting to put forward 14 separate motions asking the BMA to adopt official “neutrality” on both issues.
Nine motions asking for the BMA to adopt a “neutral” position were brought forward at last year’s meeting, and the effort has borne fruit; this year, item number 332 of the meeting’s agenda will be to discuss whether the BMA should drop its opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
The HPAD’s work within the medical community is part of the larger work by Dignity in Dying, with the group planning a mass lobbying effort in Parliament in July to attempt to force the removal of assisted suicide from the criminal code.
Dr. Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship blasted the Journal’s support for euthanasia. “Godlee and Delamothe are of course entitled to their individual opinions,” he said, “provided of course that they remain transparent about their ideological vested interests.
“But we do expect Britain’s highest circulation medical journal, which many regard as the mouthpiece of the medical profession in Britain, to deal with controversial subjects in an even-handed and evidence-based way.”
Although the BMJ is officially independent of the British Medical Association, it is distributed free to all members and is informally regarded as the voice of the profession.
Saunders noted that Tallis was chairman of the Ethics Committee of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) when that organization briefly adopted a neutral position on euthanasia in 2005. Immediately after he vacated that position, the RCP reverted to opposing changing the law, and Tallis became an “ardent advocate” for assisted suicide.
“These doctors make up a tiny minority of Britain’s doctors,” Saunders said, “but they are determined, articulate and well-organised. They have rejected the principle, enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath, Declaration of Geneva and International Code of Medical Ethics, that doctors should not kill their patients.”