The British Medical Association (BMA) is to discuss assisted suicide at its annual meeting this week, amid pressure to change its current stance.
Currently the BMA says it “opposes all forms of assisted dying” and supports the current legal position which “allows compassionate and ethical care for the dying”.
However the doctors’ union will discuss the issue at its Annual Representatives Meeting in Belfast.
Dignity in Dying – formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society – has been calling for the BMA to take a “neutral” position on the issue.
The union has been opposed to assisted suicide since 2006.
A recent consultation on the issue highlighted concern about the trust relationship between doctors and patients being damaged.
And a doctor raised the issue of guilt around assisting someone’s death: “If it was found that a patient who died two months ago could have still been alive, how am I going to forgive myself?”
The BMA currently says it opposes assisted suicide because:
• “Permitting assisted dying for some could put vulnerable people at risk of harm.
• “Such a change would be contrary to the ethics of clinical practice, as the principal purpose of medicine is to improve patients’ quality of life, not to foreshorten it.
• “Legalising assisted dying could weaken society’s prohibition on killing and undermine the safeguards against non-voluntary euthanasia. Society could embark on a ‘slippery slope’ with undesirable consequences.
• “For most patients, effective and high quality palliative care can effectively alleviate distressing symptoms associated with the dying process and allay patients’ fears.
• “Only a minority of people want to end their lives. The rules for the majority should not be changed to accommodate a small group.”
In September last year, MPs rejected a Bill to legalise assisted suicide, by 330 votes to 118.
Following the vote, Fiona Bruce MP said it was clear that MPs had “carefully read and were considering the many hundreds of emails, cards and letters from concerned constituents received prior to the debate”.
She said the correspondence was “relevant, detailed, reasoned, and yet also from the heart”.
Belgium legalised euthanasia for adults in 2002 and went on to allow the killing of children.
Baroness Campbell, who is a wheelchair user and has a degenerative genetic disease warned in 2014 against the “elasticity” of Belgium’s euthanasia law, “that no one could have imagined a few years ago”.
In 2012 Belgian twins Marc and Eddy Verbessem, who were born deaf, sought euthanasia after discovering they were both going blind. They were killed by lethal injection.