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ss triple helix - Spring 2021,  End of life developments

End of life developments

BMA poll and Irish bill yet again put pressure to legalise assisted suicide in the UK

Review by Mark Pickering, CMF Chief Executive


Pressure to legalise assisted suicide continues. The BMA members' poll, taken in February 2020 but only released in October 2020, is very significant, representing the views of 29,000 BMA members. As noted at the time: '40 per cent of respondents wanted the BMA to actively support attempts to change the law to legalise assisted suicide, 33 per cent favoured opposition, and 21 per cent felt the BMA should adopt a neutral position.' [1]

Behind those headlines lies more nuanced detail. Students and retired doctors (ie those not making clinical decisions) were most likely to support legalising assisted suicide, while those in specialities such as palliative and elderly care (where regular end of life discussions and decisions take place) were least likely to support law change. Nevertheless, this is the first time that a formal UK medical poll has put legalising assisted suicide as its most favoured choice.

The results do not change BMA policy, leaving the Association in an uncomfortable limbo. With COVID-19 cancelling the usual four-day annual meetings for both 2020 and 2021, it is still uncertain when the BMA will be able to give these results the proper attention to debate and agree a policy.

Meanwhile, heavy pressure continues in both Westminster and Holyrood. Another bill is expected soon after the Scottish elections in May. Supporters of assisted suicide in Westminster regularly put questions to ministers, call for reviews, and lay plans for either amending government bills or placing a private members bill. Continual vigilance is required, but we are encouraged by a renewed degree of collaboration between our partner groups and both MPs and Peers who oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide.

The Republic of Ireland's 'Dying with Dignity' Bill' [2] is currently at committee stage in the Irish Parliament, the Oireachtas. Even more worryingly, the bill extends eligibility to those 'resident on the island of Ireland' for one year. This would include UK citizens living in Northern Ireland and would therefore bring in assisted suicide to part of the UK without ever passing in a UK Parliament or Assembly! The bill is currently considering submissions by a range of groups, including CMF. [3] We must pray that Irish lawmakers will at least amend that clause, and hopefully reject the bill as a whole.

We urge CMF members to pray and engage with colleagues, politicians, and the BMA as appropriate. Contact jennie.pollock@cmf.org.uk to get more involved or to sign up for our regular Public Policy e-News.

References

1. Fouch S. The headline figures don't tell the whole story in the BMA assisted suicide poll. CMF Blogs, 9 October 2020. cmf.li/3nvMdkI

2. Dying with Dignity Bill 2020. Tithe an Oireachtas, 21 October 2020. bit.ly/3kAAFLP

3. Thomas R. Committee on Justice, Irish Government: Dying with Dignity Bill 2020. Submission by CMF, 1 February 2021. cmf.li/3ri0Zgg


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