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The editor the BMJ Fiona Godlee is backing a call for leading UK medical bodies to stop opposing assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, and has said that the debate on assisted dying is akin to the debates around abortion reform in the 1960s when the main medical professional bodies were against changes in legalisation but that concerns over botched terminations eventually led to change. She says that the inevitable consequence of the societal move towards greater individual autonomy and patient choice will mean that this will become a decision which should be made by society and parliament and not by doctors. http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e4075
The BMJ has published some articles about the call to allow assisted dying. There is the very moving account by Dr Tess McPherson, who describes how her mother Dr Ann McPherson really suffered: She had become tolerant to morphine after taking it for two years. She needed her dressings changed at least twice a day. Even at this point she was generous in love, always describing my dressings as the best. She felt ill in a way that only dying people can feel, and she knew that she would never feel any better. She resented life now. She no longer enjoyed seeing people, could no longer eat or walk, and could barely talk. But she did manage to express that she felt “bloody awful” and would rather be dead.” http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e4007
The Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD), wants the BMA and royal colleges to move their position from opposition to neutrality. A poll commissioned by Dignity in Dying of 1,00 GPs found that 62% supported neutrality and support from the public is at around 80%
It is hoped that the BMA will discuss this issue at their upcoming Annual Conference, on whether they should adopt a neutral position on assisted dying, rather than being opposed to it.
Raymond Tallis, Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine and HPAD’s Chair has added tha the BMA’s main opposition to assisted dying is that it is contrary to the ethos of medicine, he writes, “yet the monstrous cruelty of walking away from a dying patient in unbearable suffering seems more obviously contrary to the ethos of medicine.” http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e4115
Dr Godlee adds: “it may take a while, and it may not happen until we properly value death as one of life’s central events and learn to see bad deaths in the same damning light as botched abortions.”
Should the medical bodies like the BMA and other Royal Colleges take a neutral position on assisted dying? Patient choice, especially the mantra ' no decision about me, without me', are key concepts today. If we are saying patients should be more in control of their own healthcare and the decisions that go with it, shouldn't this also include decisions about their death? Are medical organisations evading this issue unnecessarily – how do we ensure patients don’t suffer like Dr Ann McPherson?