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Britain’s largest doctors’ union has dropped its opposition to assisted dying following a landmark vote yesterday.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has been opposed to a change in the law since 2006 but will now adopt a neutral stance.

Leaders stressed this does not mean the organisation will be ‘silent’ on the issue, but will leave it better placed to represent the views of members.

Some 49 per cent voted in favour of a motion to move to a position of neutrality at the union’s annual representative meeting.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has been opposed to a change in the law since 2006 but will now adopt a neutral stance. Stock picture

The British Medical Association (BMA) has been opposed to a change in the law since 2006 but will now adopt a neutral stance. Stock picture

The British Medical Association (BMA) has been opposed to a change in the law since 2006 but will now adopt a neutral stance. Stock picture

Additionally, 48 per cent voted against it, with 3 per cent abstaining.

Dr Robin Arnold, who proposed the motion, told the conference: ‘You do not have to decide today whether you are in favour of physician-assisted dying or against it.

‘You have to consider how best the wide range of views of our membership can be represented.’

But some members of the BMA, which represents 150,000 doctors, warned that neutrality would be seen as ‘tacit’ approval of euthanasia.

Dr Gillian Wright said: ‘The BMA defines physician-assisted dying as assisted suicide and euthanasia. We know that neutrality means tacit approval and has enormous political significance.’ Separately, the meeting passed a motion calling for ‘robust conscience rights’ to be included in any future legislation on assisted dying.

This would mean healthcare workers should be able to conscientiously object to participating in assisted dying. 

Leaders stressed this does not mean the organisation will be 'silent' on the issue, but will leave it better placed to represent the views of members

Leaders stressed this does not mean the organisation will be 'silent' on the issue, but will leave it better placed to represent the views of members

Leaders stressed this does not mean the organisation will be ‘silent’ on the issue, but will leave it better placed to represent the views of members

It comes as Parliament considers a Bill to permit doctors in England and Wales to prescribe lethal doses of drugs for dying patients. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, last week called for a change in the law in The BMJ, saying there is ‘nothing holy about agony’.

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA’s medical ethics committee, said: ‘Moving to a position of neutrality means that the BMA will not lobby for or against a change in the law. But far from remaining silent on the issue, we will continue to represent the views, interests and concerns expressed by our members.’ 

The motion was welcomed by some campaign groups, with Sarah Wootton, of Dignity in Dying, branding it a ‘historic decision’ and ‘a victory for common sense’.

She said: ‘The BMA can now proudly and accurately advocate on behalf of its members, while sending a message to Parliament that assisted dying is, rightly, an issue for society, where the views of dying people and their loved ones should be heard loud and clear.’ 

More than 100 leading medics had signed an open letter before the vote urging the BMA to adopt a neutral stance.

But Dr Gordon Macdonald, of the Care Not Killing group, said current laws protect the vulnerable and do not need changing.

He added: ‘We are naturally disappointed at the divisive nature of this vote as it exposes the divide between doctors who care for patients at their end of life, whether in hospitals or hospices, who oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia and those medics who work in unrelated disciplines such as child and adolescent psychiatry and occupational health.’

Source: Daily Mail UK

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