The British Medical Association’s first ever survey of its members’ views on assisted dying has found that doctors are in support of a change in the law. 28,986 members (which is approx. 20%) responded, making it the largest ever survey of medical opinion on assisted dying in the UK.
Doctors were asked what the BMA’s position should be regarding a change in the law to allow doctors to prescribe drugs for patients to self-administer, in order to end their own life. 40% said the BMA should support a change in the law, 21% said the BMA should take a neutral position and just 33% thought the BMA should maintain its opposition, with 6% undecided.
When asked for their personal views on law change, 50% of doctors were in favour of law change on assisted dying with 39% opposed and 11% undecided. As for their ‘willingness to actively participate in any way in the process’, 36% said yes, they would be willing. This tells us that whilst doctors are personally supportive, they may not want to take part professionally and that the inclusion of conscientious objection needs to be part of our attempts at law reform. 58% support AD in patients with physical conditions which cause intolerable suffering, but only 24% for those who are described as terminally ill, and who have 6 months to live.
Doctors in specialties such as anaesthetics, emergency medicine, intensive care and obstetrics & gynaecology tended to be generally more supportive, whereas those in specialties including clinical oncology, general practice, geriatric medicine and palliative care tended to be generally more opposed.
This is a momentous moment for our campaign which shows that most doctors support greater choice at the end of life. The BMA’s current policy, opposing assisted dying in all forms, dates back to 2006 – a policy position reaffirmed in 2016. The BMA has been clear that “the survey was not a policy-forming exercise” but with the BMA’s annual representative meeting (ARM) vote taking place in June 2021, it will surely be persuasive. The BMA should be congratulated for having sought out its members’ views and we look forward to the BMA reviewing its position so it can truly claim to represent the range of opinions of its members. If the BMA were to move its position to ‘neutral’ it would join the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Nursing Royal Society of Psychiatrists, Royal Pharmaceutical Society and others. The main impediment to changing the law has been the long-held view that doctors groups oppose it. Clearly, this argument is no longer sustainable.
In other news, last night Ireland’s Parliament voted to support assisted dying legislation, and shortly a referendum on the subject will take place in New Zealand. We are in the process of undertaking our own polling for Scotland and will share the results with you first. For decades we have known that the public support greater choice. It is now clear, the world over, that there has been a monumental shift in opinion amongst both healthcare professionals and politicians. Onwards!
You can access the full results here.