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British Medical Association launches first ever survey on assisted dying

The British Medical Association (BMA) will today (Thursday 6 February 2020) launch its first ever survey of members on assisted dying. The survey, which will go out to the BMA’s 160,000 members, will be the largest poll of doctors’ views on assisted dying to date in the UK.

The BMA is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying, despite never having surveyed its members for their views on the issue. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a membership survey in 2019. The results of a recent poll by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) are due to be released later this month.

The BMA’s decision to survey its members for their views on assisted dying follows a debate at its Annual Representative Meeting in June 2019. Dr Jacky Davis, Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, introduced the following motion, all parts of which were passed by the BMA’s Representative Body:

That this meeting notes the recent decision by the Royal College of Physicians to adopt a neutral position on assisted dying after surveying the views of its members, and:-

  • supports patient autonomy and good quality end of life care for all patients;
  • recognises that not all patient suffering can be alleviated;
  • calls on the BMA to carry out a poll of its members to ascertain their views on whether the BMA should adopt a neutral position with respect to a change in the law on assisted dying.

Dr Jacky Davis said:

“This survey is an important step for the BMA and means that members will be able to express their views on this historic issue. As demonstrated by the RCP poll last year, it is becoming clear that there is a wide spectrum of views in the medical profession towards supporting greater patient choice at the end of life, and the policy of medical organisations needs to reflect that. Politicians and patients want to know what doctors think on this issue and we need all views to be heard. Our patients have wanted this choice for decades and we should be pleased that doctors are prepared to engage in the debate.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying:

“This survey is a welcome move which shows maturity and pragmatism. For many years, the BMA’s opposition has been interpreted as most doctors being opposed to assisted dying, despite this claim never being tested against the views of its membership.

“With one Brit travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death every week, 300 terminally ill people ending their own lives in England every year, and many more suffering unbearably against their wishes, it is clear the current law is not working and this issue is not going away. It is vital that medical organisations provide an open and respectful platform for all views to be heard, but we must also ensure that the most important voices – terminally ill people and their loved ones – remain central to this debate.”


Notes to Editor:

For further information and interview requests please contact Ellie Ball, Media & Campaigns Manager at Dignity in Dying: / 0207 479 7732 / 07725 433 025

Healthcare professionals

The British Medical Association launches its first ever membership survey on assisted dying in February 2020.

The Royal College of GPs is set to announce the results of a membership survey on assisted dying in February 2020.

Last year, the Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a member survey.

International developments

Assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in ten US jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine (June 2019).

Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people in June 2019. Western Australia voted to legalise a similar bill in December 2019.

New Zealand will put an End of Life Choice Bill to a public referendum in September 2020 after the legislation passed third reading in November 2019.

Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016. As a result of the Canadian Supreme Court’s judgment in Carter v Canada in February 2015, the Canadian government introduced assisted dying legislation in June 2016.

Assisted dying proposals in the British Isles and Crown Dependencies

A Westminster Hall debate on assisted dying took place on 23 January 2020. The functioning and impact of the current law was debated at a backbench business committee debate in July 2019. Proposals for assisted dying legislation were last debated in the Commons in September 2015.

The Isle of Man’s Parliament, Tynwald, debated assisted dying at its January sitting on 22 January 2020. It last debated legislation in 2015.

Jersey’s Council of Ministers announced in 2019 that it would undertake detailed research into the views of residents, overseas developments and potential legislation.

The Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands voted in favour of two motions on assisted dying in July 2018 (that terminally ill residents should have the right to die at a time and place of their choosing, and that should legislation be introduced in the UK, the Falkland Islands would consider adopting it).

The States of Guernsey last debated assisted dying proposals in May 2018.

About Dignity in Dying

Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It campaigns within the law to change the law, to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live – something supported by 84% of the public (Populus, 2019).
Dignity in Dying does not provide practical assistance or advice in ending life, nor does it provide enquirers with the contact details of organisations who do so.