Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Assisted dying: BMA surveys its members for first time

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 06 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m459

Rapid Response:

Re: Assisted dying: BMA surveys its members for first time

Dear Editor

I refer to the rather one-sided article recently published (BMJ, 8th February) about the BMA poll on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The article failed to mention that from 1950 until 2005 the BMA was opposed to euthanasia. It only adopted a position of neutrality for one year in 2005, a position which was reversed in 2006.

The BMA’s longstanding opposition to euthanasia reflects the overwhelming view internationally that assisted suicide and euthanasia are not an appropriate part of medicine. This view was reaffirmed in October last year by the World Medical Association (WMA) at its 70th General Assembly in Georgia. The WMA published a declaration committing it, “to the principles of medical ethics and that utmost respect has to be maintained for human life”.

It continues, “Therefore, the WMA is firmly opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide”.

And concludes:
“No physician should be forced to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide, nor should any physician be obliged to make referral decisions to this end…”

This final part of statement is particularly important as in Canada and the Netherlands we have seen health care professionals, who conscientiously object to assisted dying, being pressured to make referrals for euthanasia.

There are other concerns too.

In the Netherlands, the fastest growing category of euthanasia deaths is that of patients with psychiatric conditions. There was a 600% increase in such cases in the years from 2012 to 2017.

In the US, the National Council on Disability published a major review of what is happening in the minority of states that have changed the law to allow assisted suicide. It concluded that safeguards were ineffective and that oversight of abuse and mistakes was absent. These states included Oregon and Washington where a majority of those ending their lives do so because of fear of being a burden.

This is why despite the constant and emotive campaigning by a small number of vocal pressure groups, doctors around the world continue to strongly oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia.

We hope this principled opposition will continue in the UK.

Competing interests: No competing interests

14 February 2020
Gordon Macdonald
Chief Executive
Care Not Killing
6 Marshalsea Road, London, SE1 1HL