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ss nucleus - spring 2007,  BMA - Be More Active!

BMA - Be More Active!

Anna Soar encourages us to make a difference

I wonder what you think of when you hear the words 'British Medical Association'? What springs to mind? For those of us who are BMA members, how many of us get our glossy Student BMJs each month, have a quick flick through and then bin them?

Two years ago I used to do exactly that. It was around that time that a member of the BMA Medical Students' Committee (MSC) stood up at the CMF student conference and challenged us to get involved with the BMA. There began my involvement with the BMA, and now, by the grace of God, I am privileged to be Newcastle's BMA MSC representative. My prayer is that this article will debunk the mysteries surrounding the BMA and encourage you, yes even you, to get involved with the BMA and 'let your light shine before men'.[1]

What the BMA is (and is not)

The BMA's most important functions are as a voluntary professional association of doctors and an independent trade union. It is recognised as the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. Whenever a medical issue is debated by government or the media, the BMA is often the first point of contact for agencies from the Sun to BBC News.

Just in case you missed those lectures in your first year, the BMA does not register or regulate doctors (the General Medical Council does that) and it does not give them legal representation (unless it is about terms of employment), which is the role of the defence unions.

A biblical mandate

We serve the living God whose 'righteousness is like the mighty mountains, [his] justice like the great deep'.[2] We see his intimate concern for social action in Psalm 146:7-9:

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Not only this, but he commands us to share his passion:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. [3]

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering towards slaughter. If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this', does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done? [4]

There are many ways in which obedience to these verses can be worked out, from humanitarian aid work to Christian legal representation. However, if we look at these verses from a medical perspective, 'those who cannot speak for themselves' include unborn babies in the womb; and 'those being led away to death…and staggering toward slaughter' might be those elderly patients or disabled people who are vulnerable to any changes in the law on euthanasia.

Do what only you can do

I praise the Lord that He made us a 'body of Christ' each with different roles,[5] because one thing is for sure - we cannot do everything! An article in Triple Helix called, 'Do what only you can do'[6] made me think about what I could do to influence my profession. It acknowledged that Christian doctors lead hectic lives. Therefore, in order not to overburden ourselves, we should question whether each cause or job we have been asked to undertake requires their unique gifting as a doctor, or generic skills that many non-medical colleagues will also have. 'Do what only you can do…'

I think this particularly applies to us as Christian medical students. There are many worthy uses of our time; however, few roles require the specific attention of medical students. The BMA is a good example of this as only we can become members of the BMA, and it is the BMA members who make up the national voice of doctors. That means on issues of morality or ethics, the BMA is usually asked for their opinion. It sometimes means that a small number of doctors and students influence a major change in the law of this country.

How to get involved

Join up

An essential first step! This can be done using the website www.bma.org.uk. It's free for freshers, and costs in the region of £30 a year for other year groups (you get the Student BMJ free).

Get along to Intra-School Committee (ISC) meetings

Each medical school has an Intra-School Committee and an MSC representative. The MSC rep brings the views of your medical students to the national MSC, which meets in London four times per year.

The ISC (it may be called something different at your med school) deals with issues specific to your medical school, like problems faced by individual students. This committee is led by an ISC chair.

By going along to ISC meetings you'll be able to chat to your ISC chair and MSC rep and make known your views on the issues that are important to you as a student and future doctor. Your MSC rep may be surprised to discover that there are so many students in your medical school who are passionate about justice, protecting the vulnerable and the sanctity of life, but they'll never know unless we, CMF members, let them hear our views.

Write motions for next year's MSC Conference

By going along to the ISC meetings you will be kept in the know about the annual MSC Conference. The MSC Conference is your opportunity to write motions about the issues you care about, which are then debated and voted on by students from around the country.

A motion is a statement of belief or a call for someone to act (usually an organisation). If a motion passes at conference it becomes the policy of the MSC and influences their lobbying for the following years. It also has the potential to go forward to the Annual Representatives Meeting, where it could become policy of the BMA as a whole (more on the ARM later).

I recently attended this year's MSC conference and found it a really encouraging time; thank you to all those who were praying! There were really positive motions passed including some about the arms trade, global health and abortion. For those of you who knew about the motion I had written, here's the form in which it passed (after some debate):

That this conference notes the growing body of evidence for the negative mental and physical health outcomes of termination of pregnancy (TOP) and believes that in order to ensure fully informed consent and to safeguard women's health, the MSC and BMA should work with the NHS and appropriate Royal Colleges to ensure that:

  1. Women requesting a TOP are fully counselled as to all potential negative physical and mental health outcomes using up-to-date evidence;
  2. Doctors actively consider the risks of a TOP versus those of continuing the pregnancy before permitting a TOP under Ground C of the Abortion Act 1967;
  3. Each woman having a TOP is offered access to post-TOP counselling, in order to discuss any physical and mental health consequences.

I know little about political strategy, but what I do know is that as 'sheep among wolves' we need to 'be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves'[7] in our attempts to influence and encourage our peers to support an ethical way forward in all they do. The rationale behind the above motion was that, barring a miracle, a motion calling for a total ban on abortion except when the mother's life is in danger would be unlikely to pass at the MSC Conference. Instead, I hope this motion reflects the fact that it may take many years for medical and public opinion on abortion to change; it attempts to bring about worthwhile change that is achievable in the current climate.

Writing motions is not tricky! Although my motion was rather long-winded, yours needn't be and there is help available from your MSC rep, the BMA website or people at CMF. There are also lots of other resources – www.abort73.com is great for information on abortion. The deadline for motion submission is usually December.

Stand for election as an MSC rep or ISC chair

I promise you this is not as scary as it sounds. Sadly the deadline for receiving nominations has already passed for the coming September but do consider standing next year. Details of how to do this appear in the March/April edition of Student BMA News. Essentially, you have to put your name forward, and if other students also want to stand, each candidate writes a 100 word 'manifesto'. The names and manifestos are posted out to all BMA student members at your medical school and all that remains for you to do is pray and ask your friends to vote for you.

When I applied for the position as MSC rep the only contact I had had with the BMA was a few ISC meetings. Many of the current MSC reps have a similar story. You really don't need an extensive knowledge of the BMA. In fact, if you've read this article you'll probably know more than I did before I applied. Also, you get all the training you need once you are elected.

Let me particularly encourage you to stand for leadership on the national committees (eg as MSC rep). In our confused and relativistic society, it is vital that there are Christians prepared to stand for God's truth in the BMA, the voice of UK medical students and doctors. Not being a natural public speaker, I found this aspect of being an MSC rep incredibly daunting, but in fact it has been a delight to learn to rely more on the Lord's strength in my weakness.[8] Your time as ISC chair or MSC rep will also benefit you in your future career long after you step down from the BMA because of the political skills and general knowledge you will have acquired.

Another way in which the Lord has graciously encouraged me this year is in his provision of two other Christian MSC reps. When the three of us realised we were brothers and sisters in Christ we were overwhelmed by the Lord's faithfulness; the prayer and support we have received from one another has been a real blessing. Could the baton pass to you next year?

It is important to note that the BMA pays all expenses incurred as a BMA rep, so you'll never be out of pocket.

Go to the Annual Representatives Meeting (ARM) on 6–10 July 2008

The ARM is the national annual meeting for everyone in the BMA. The ARM agenda is made up of motions passed at the conferences of the different components of the BMA – medical students, GPs, consultants and junior doctors each have their own conferences. By getting a seat at the ARM you are able to vote on the submitted motions and the ones that pass become the policy of the whole BMA. Consequently you are personally able to influence national BMA policy and therefore what the 'voice of UK doctors and medical students' says!

If you are thinking about getting involved as an MSC rep or ISC chair then I urge you to apply for a seat at this meeting (any BMA member can apply); it is an amazing opportunity to see how the BMA operates, and to find out about the current hot topics. I've been myself; it was great fun and the BMA again pays all your expenses.

There are three ways to get a seat at the ARM:

  1. if you go to next year's MSC Conference, you'll be able to apply for a seat there;
  2. through your local division – to find out how to contact your division either speak to your MSC rep or your regional BMA office;
  3. by emailing anicola@bma.org.uk in early 2008 and asking her for a nomination form.

Pray

Please pray:

  • about your own potential involvement in the BMA;
  • for all Christians involved with the BMA, and especially those attending this year's ARM (25-28 June 2007). Pray that we would always speak truth with gentleness and respect9 and that everything we do would be for the glory of God;
  • that the policy made at the ARM would be honouring to the Lord;
  • for the leaders of our profession and our country – 'I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.'[10]

If you're at all interested in getting involved with the BMA and would like to chat anything over, please feel free to email me at a.j.soar@ncl.ac.uk.

Be a 'Wilberforce'

200 years after the Christian MP William Wilberforce tirelessly campaigned for the abolition of slavery, we are in no less need of Christians in places of influence who will stand for truth. What greater confidence can we have than to know that Christ is with us 'always, to the very end of the age'?[11] Perhaps to conclude I can quote John Stott:

I find myself wanting to say, especially to young people: 'Don't be content with the mediocre! Don't settle for anything less than your God-given potential! Be ambitious and adventurous for God! God has made you a unique person by your genetic endowment, upbringing and education. He has Himself created you and gifted you, and He does not want His work to be wasted. He means you to be fulfilled, not frustrated. His purpose is that everything you have and are should be stretched in His service and in the service of others '…only then can we hope to hear from Christ those most coveted of all words, 'Well done, good and faithful servant!' [12]

References
  1. Mt 5:16
  2. Ps 36:6
  3. Pr 31:8,9
  4. Pr 24:11,12
  5. 1 Cor 12:12
  6. McLaughlin M. Do what only you can do. Triple Helix 2006; Spring:7
  7. Mt 10:16
  8. 2 Cor 12:9
  9. 1 Pet 3:15
  10. 1 Tim 2:1,2
  11. Mt 28:20
  12. Stott J. A call for Christian leadership. In New Issues Facing Christians Today. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999: 434,435
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