New Zealand will hold referendum on assisted dying in 2020BMJ 2019; 367 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l6517 (Published 13 November 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6517
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Lawmakers in New Zealand have recognised that a blanket ban on assisted dying no longer works. They were not the first to recognise this and they won’t be the last.
Medical bodies in this country have historically opposed assisted dying, but such an approach looks increasingly out of touch. It is therefore right that the medical Royal Colleges and the BMA are revisiting their policies on this important issue. While some doctors still argue that law change should be avoided at all costs, surveys suggest they are now in the minority, and that doctors and their representatives should adopt a neutral stance to more accurately reflect medical opinion. A growing number accept that the law should give dying people a greater degree of choice and control at the end of their lives ,. I suspect that the majority of doctors – those who may not even respond to the surveys being conducted by the RCGP and BMA – would not wish to stand in the way of something that has overwhelming public support . Medical bodies should adopt balanced policies to respect the diversity of views within the profession.
The reality is that at present many people feel no other option but to arrange their deaths in secret, either by flying to Switzerland, stockpiling medication or taking more violent action. Many more suffer badly, despite having access to the very best end-of-life care. Such deaths may only affect a small minority of people, but society is, quite rightly, evolving in order to accommodate the needs of other minority groups. Sadly, a blunt policy of outright opposition to assisted dying sends a clear message of “tough luck” to those, including relatives, who have been forced to endure misery as a consequence of the current law.
We now have an opportunity to change that. I hope future generations are not have to look back at this moment and condemn the medical profession for stubbornly defending a status quo that the vast majority of people now recognise is completely outdated .
Competing interests: No competing interests