The British Medical Association (BMA) is to ask 160,000 doctors about their opinions on assisted dying, making it the largest poll to date in the UK.
Currently, assisted dying is illegal in England and Wales under the "Suicide Act 1961", and in Northern Ireland under the "Criminal Justice Act 1966". It states that anyone who “encourages or assists a suicide” is liable to up to 14 years in prison. In Scotland there is no specific crime of assisting a suicide but it is possible that helping a person to die could lead to prosecution for culpable homicide.
Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying Chair Dr Jacky Davis introduced the motion, all parts of which were passed by the BMA’s representative body. She said: “This survey is an important step for the BMA and means that members will be able to express their views on this historic issue.
"As demonstrated by the Royal College of Physicians' (RCP) poll last year, it is becoming clear that there is a wide spectrum of views in the medical profession towards supporting greater patient choice at the end of life, and the policy of medical organisations needs to reflect that."
She said politicians and patients want to know what doctors think on this issue and all views need to be heard.
Dignity in Dying Chief Executive Sarah Wootton said the survey was a welcome move that showed maturity and pragmatism. She said: “For many years, the BMA’s opposition has been interpreted as most doctors being opposed to assisted dying, despite this claim never being tested against the views of its membership.
“With one Brit travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death every week, 300 terminally ill people ending their own lives in England every year, and many more suffering unbearably against their wishes, it is clear the current law is not working and this issue is not going away.
"It is vital that medical organisations provide an open and respectful platform for all views to be heard, but we must also ensure that the most important voices, terminally ill people and their loved ones, remain central to this debate.”
More information about the BMA survey is available at: www.bma.org.uk
Last reviewed 11 February 2020