- Largest ever survey of UK doctors finds support for assisted dying and overwhelming support for change in BMA’s position
- Half of doctors in survey support a change in the law, just 39% opposed to law change
The British Medical Association’s first ever survey of its members’ views on assisted dying has found that doctors are in support of assisted dying and want the BMA to drop its official policy of opposition to a change in the law. Nearly 29,000 members of the BMA 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 on assisted dying 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.
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.
Dr Jacky Davis, Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, said:
“We now know what we’ve suspected for many years that there is a wide range of views amongst doctors and support for law change is growing year by year. Doctors want to listen to their patients and support them throughout their lives and, for some dying people, that will include a need for choice and control at the end of life. For too long the medical establishment has opposed assisted dying without listening to the opinions of the profession as a whole.
“The BMA should be commended for conducting a very thorough and fair survey and for securing a huge turnout of members. It will no doubt help to inform discussions on the BMA’s official position at the next Annual Representative Meeting. It is to be hoped that the BMA will listen to its members and take a more constructive position on assisted dying. This will help ensure we get a new law that works for doctors, works for dying people, and works for society as a whole.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“This is a historic vote and shows the majority of doctors support greater choice at the end of life. The BMA’s official opposition to assisted dying is completely unrepresentative of its members. The BMA should be congratulated for having sought out its members’ views on the subject and we look forward to the BMA reviewing its position so it can truly claim to represent the range of opinions of its members. Similar results have been found in surveys by the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of GPs, demonstrating that the opposition to assisted dying that some doctors’ groups have previously maintained is simply not sustainable.
“These results come hot on the heels of the vote last night in Ireland’s Parliament to support assisted dying legislation, and shortly before a referendum on the subject in New Zealand. It’s clear that both in this country and overseas there has been a real shift in opinion amongst both healthcare professionals and amongst politicians. There is growing pressure in the UK for an urgent review of our cruel laws, with cross-party Parliamentarians, Police and Crime Commissioners, interfaith leaders and senior figures in the medical profession, including most recently Emeritus Medical Director of Public Health England Paul Cosford, all recognising that the ban on assisted dying is simply not working. It is time for the UK to grasp this nettle and change the law.”
For more information or interview requests please contact Tom Davies, Director of Campaigns and Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07725 433 025.
A summary of the BMA’s survey results can be found here: https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/ethics/end-of-life/physician-assisted-dying-survey
A full analysis of the BMA’s survey results can be downloaded here: https://www.bma.org.uk/media/3367/bma-physician-assisted-dying-survey-report-oct-2020.pdf
Notes to Editor:
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).
Eminent GPs Prof Aneez Esmail and Sir Sam Everington recently launched a legal challenge to the Royal College of GPs alongside the Good Law Project and Dignity in Dying over RCGP Council’s decision to maintain opposition to assisted dying despite its own survey showing a dramatic shift in GP opinion. The RCGP has committed to respond to the concerns raised in the legal challenge by the 6th November, shortly after the next meeting of its Trustees.
The BMA’s current position (opposed to a change in the law) is also due to de debated at their next Annual Representative Meeting in 2021.
In March 2019, the Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a member survey.
Assisted dying proposals in the UK and Crown Dependencies
A Westminster Hall debate on assisted dying took place on 23 January 2020, in which a majority of speakers backed growing calls from across society for an inquiry into the UK’s current laws on assisted dying. 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 Government of Jersey announced in February 2020 that it would launch a Citizen’s Jury on assisted dying, which will give recommendations to the States Assembly ahead of a debate at the end of this year. In 2019 the Government of Jersey announced that it would undertake detailed research into the views of residents, overseas developments and potential legislation.
The Isle of Man’s Parliament, Tynwald, debated assisted dying at its January sitting on 22 January 2020. It last debated legislation in 2015.
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.
Last night (Wednesday 7 October 2020) TDs in Ireland’s Dáil voted 81 to 71 to allow the Dying with Dignity 2020 Bill to proceed to committee stage for pre-legislative scrutiny. An amendment tabled by the coalition government to establish a new special Oireachtas committee to examine the issue and report back in a year’s time was defeated.
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. The health committee of the Government of Queensland published a report in March 2020 recommending that legislation enabling terminally ill citizens the option of assisted dying be introduced, the result of a year-long investigation.
New Zealand will put an End of Life Choice Bill to a public referendum on October 17th, after legislation passed third reading in November 2019.