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Medical organisation urges caution over results of BMA poll on assisted dying

Published: 8th October 2020

The Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) has expressed profound concern over the results of the British Medical Association (BMA) members' poll on physician-assisted dying (assisted suicide and euthanasia), published today. The poll shows that support for legalisation of assisted suicide (but not euthanasia) gained the most votes.

With almost 29,000 respondents, this is undoubtedly a very significant poll. When asked whether the BMA should support the legalisation of assisted suicide (where the patient would self-administer lethal drugs), 40 per cent supported, 33 per cent were opposed, and 21 per cent voted for neutrality. Results for euthanasia (where a clinician would directly administer the lethal drugs) showed predictable opposition.

Support for legalisation was stronger amongst medical students and retired members, and significantly weaker from those who are currently practising. Furthermore, those specialties who regularly deal with end of life decision making (palliative care, oncology, elderly care and general practice) showed stronger opposition towards assisted suicide. Support for assisted suicide was more concentrated among specialties such as radiology, orthopaedics and histopathology.

Also of note is that the majority (54 per cent) would not be willing to participate actively in the process of administering life-ending drugs, and 40 per cent do not want the BMA to campaign for doctors to be allowed to do this. So, while many are willing to see the law change, far fewer would be willing to enact it.

CMF's CEO, Dr Mark Pickering said, "While the final decision on the BMA's position on physician-assisted dying will be taken at their Annual Representatives Meeting in June 2021, this poll raises serious concern that many BMA members do not realise the implications of supporting the legalisation of assisted suicide. It is especially significant that support for assisted suicide is strongest amongst those who deal with end of life issues the least, whereas greater current experience of these difficult situations tends to bring greater opposition to legalisation.

"Recent Canadian experience has shown that a shift in the national medical body's position on assisted dying can lead to rapid changes in the law and shifts in medical culture, leading to pressure on doctors with conscientious objections. Canadian law is already extending further after only three years, removing initial references to terminal illness and demonstrating rapid incremental extension that should give great concern in the UK.

"The majority of medical bodies around the world remain strongly opposed to legalising assisted dying of any kind because of such examples. Just last year, the World Medical Association (WMA), at its 70th General Assembly, reiterated its firm opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

"Those campaigning for a change in the law have pushed hard for the professions to go neutral on assisted suicide and euthanasia for years. GPs clearly rejected such a move in February, and the Royal College of Physicians clarified in March that they do not support a change in the law. It is significant that once again, the 'neutral' position, so much publicly favoured by assisted dying campaigners, came a distant third in this poll.

"The BMA needs to be very mindful of the implications of their decisions, and the impact that changing its current stance of opposition could have on the many elderly and disabled people who will feel a real or perceived pressure to ask for their lives to be shortened."

For further information:

Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668

Media Enquiries:

Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225

About CMF:

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.

CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

Christian Medical Fellowship:
uniting & equipping Christian doctors & nurses
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