BMJ backs “neutrality” on assisted dying
By Michael Cook
The British Medical Journal has declared that the legalisation of assisted dying is inevitable and that British doctors should move from opposition to neutrality. Editor Fiona Godlee supports a group called Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying which wants the British Medical Association and the royal colleges to adopt a position of “studied neutrality” in order “to reflect the diversity of personal and religious views among doctors and their patients, and to encourage open debate”.
Dr Godlee contends that the debate over assisted dying (she does not mention the word “euthanasia”) is following a familiar pattern. In the 1960s doctors resisted abortion reform because they feared “a loss of clinical autonomy”. But when it became evident that stemming the tide of public opinion had become futile, the medical profession dropped its opposition and negotiated with the government over technical details.
The director of the lobby group Care Not Killing Alliance, Dr Peter Saunders, said: “The profession could be caught napping by a seemingly small change in position by the BMA to become neutral when the real agenda is legalisation of euthanasia. It would herald a huge change.’
“This is a carefully orchestrated move by a small minority of doctors with extreme views aimed at neutralising medical opposition and softening up public and parliamentary opinion in advance of new pressure to change the law. HPAD has just 520 supporters, representing less than 0.25% of the medical profession.”
Most of the leading medical colleges, including the Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Surgeons of England and Association of Palliative Medicine, are actively opposed to assisted dying. The BMA will debate the issue at this year’s annual policymaking meeting.
Editor’s note. This appeared at Mr. Cook’s blog and is reprinted with permission.