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Anti-choice doctors thwarted as British Medical Association reaffirms neutral stance on assisted dying

  • Attempt to force UK’s largest doctors’ group into opposing end-of-life choice thwarted today after debate at BMA’s annual meeting
  • Follows BMA’s decision last year to adopt neutral policy on assisted dying after biggest ever survey of medical opinion on topic found that majority of doctors wanted to abandon BMA’s previous stance of opposition
  • Survey also found half of doctors now personally support change in law to allow choice of assisted dying for terminally ill people

Today (Wednesday 29 June 2022) the British Medical Association (BMA) – the UK’s largest doctors’ body – reaffirmed its neutral stance on assisted dying, after an attempt to force it back to a policy of opposition was rejected by a majority of its Representative Body (53%).

Last year the BMA dropped its long-standing opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying following a debate at its Annual Representative Meeting, after the biggest ever survey of doctors on the issue found that 61% disagreed that the Association should remain opposed, with half (50%) of doctors saying they personally supported law change.

The survey, which had almost 30,000 responses, was held in 2020 after Dr Jacky Davis, BMA Medical Ethics Committee Member and Chair of Healthcare Professional for Assisted Dying, tabled a successful motion in 2019 which committed the BMA to ask its members for their views on assisted dying for the first time. The BMA followed a growing number of UK healthcare bodies to adopt a neutral stance on assisted dying, including the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal Society of Medicine, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

Today at the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting in Brighton, attended by its Representative Body (RB), an attempt to reverse its decision to adopt a neutral position on assisted dying was thwarted.

The first part of the motion, which 93% of the Representative Body voted to support, sought agreement that the meeting “deplores the current lack of adequately funded and equitably provided high quality palliative care across the UK” and that it “demands [that recent legislation mandating commissioning of palliative care] is backed up by a funded policy for comprehensive hospice, community, and hospital specialist palliative care services nationwide, along with imposition of a duty on all NHS commissioners to ensure these services are made available to all who need them”.

The second part of the motion sought agreement that the meeting “opposes any attempt to legalise assisted dying in a climate of such under-resourcing of quality end-of-life care”. It was rejected, with 53% of the BMA’s Representative Body voting against it.

Dr Jacky Davis said:

“The Representative Body of the BMA has today rejected an attempt to reverse BMA policy on assisted dying via a motion on palliative care funding. This would have meant a minority view being forced on the majority of members, and it would also have blocked the BMA’s ability to contribute on behalf of its members and patients to discussion on assisted dying during upcoming legislation.

“I commend the Representative Body’s wholehearted support for increasing funding of and access to palliative care. Fortunately, the vote today has demonstrated that the majority are committed both to improving existing end-of-life services and to engaging constructively in the assisted dying debate – twin aims that not only co-exist but complement one another.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law to allow assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults alongside high quality end-of-life care and subject to strict safeguards, said:

“The BMA leadership should be applauded for its sensible, pragmatic and democratic approach to the assisted dying debate, including the great care it took in surveying members for their views to ensure last year’s decision to adopt a neutral stance was evidence-based and fair. It must stand firm in the face of attempts to hijack its policy-making process and force a position on the membership that most do not support. Assisted dying should be part of good end-of-life care and it is wrong to try and drive a wedge between these two important issues.

“As MPs prepare to debate assisted dying on Monday for the first time in two years and as Assisted Dying Bills progress in the Parliaments of Scotland, Jersey and the Isle of Man, it is essential that parliamentarians get an accurate picture of doctors’ views. A position of engaged neutrality is the best way for the BMA to represent its members and ensure future legislation is as safe as possible for patients and doctors alike.”


For more information or interview requests, please contact Ellie Ball at or call 07725 433 025 or Ally Thomson at or call 07766 112 463.