The British Medical Association has dropped its opposition to assisted dying and adopted a neutral stance following a vote at its annual representative meeting.
It comes as the Assisted Dying Bill is due to return to the House of Lords for its second reading next month. It will be the first parliamentary debate on the topic in six years.
Some 49 per cent of the BMA’s representative body voted on Tuesday in favour of a motion for it to move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying, including physician-assisted dying, with 48 per cent against it and three per cent abstaining.
Historically, the BMA has been opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying.
The union said that while the decision meant it would neither support nor oppose attempts to change the law, it would not be silent on the issue and had “a responsibility to represent its members’ interests and concerns in any future legislative proposals”.
The debate comes after a survey showed that 40 per cent of members said the BMA should support attempts to change the law on prescribing drugs for eligible patients to self-administer to end their own life, with 33 per cent favouring opposition and 21 per cent saying the union should be neutral.
The first survey to poll BMA members on their views on assisted dying also found that 50 per cent believed that there should be a change in the law to permit doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs, with 39 per cent opposed and 11 per cent undecided.
Proposing the motion at the BMA’s annual representative meeting, Dr Robin Arnold said moving to a neutral position would allow the BMA to represent all its members.
He added: “You do not have to decide today whether you are in favour of physician-assisted dying or against it, you have to consider how best the wide range of views of our membership can be represented.”
But some members warned that a neutral stance would be seen as “tacit” approval of euthanasia.