Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Assisted Dying

Doctors’ organisations, neutrality, and the assisted dying debate

BMJ 2021; 374 doi: (Published 09 September 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;374:n2075

Read our coverage of the assisted dying debate

  1. Jo Best, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK

Some doctors say that neutrality is the best way for organisations such as the BMA to represent members’ diverse views on legalising medical help to die, while others say that it indicates tacit support and can mask strong objections. Jo Best reports

On 14 September the BMA will debate motions on doctor assisted dying, including calls for the association to change its stance opposing legalisation to one of neutrality.1 A membership survey last year found diverse views: 40% of respondents said that the BMA should support legalisation, 33% said that it should remain opposed, and 21% wanted it to take a neutral stance.2

Such surveys among healthcare professionals often find broad splits. Adopting a position of “considered neutrality,” like the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing (table), avoids committing to a single stance shared only by a minority of members.

David Nicholl, consultant neurologist and supporter of the Dignity in Dying campaign for assisted dying, told The BMJ, “There’s a lobby of doctors on both sides of the argument: a lot of people are very pro or very anti, but I don’t think it’s healthy for organisations to be strongly one way or the other. Decisions can get made by a very small number of people who may not necessarily …

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