Marlowe's Shade

Friday, July 01, 2005

Dark Days Ahead for UK: BMA Drops Opposition to Euthanasia

From The Telegraph

Long-standing opposition among doctors to euthanasia was effectively dropped by the BMA yesterday.

Doctors voted at their conference to change the association's policy and adopt a neutral position, which means, in practice, that they will neither campaign for nor against any future change in the law.

They would not oppose legislation on "assisted dying" but insisted that any legislation should include "robust safeguards" for patients and doctors who did not want to be involved.

Dr John Chisholm, a leading GP, said: "We need to ensure that vulnerable patients are protected, they have quality palliative care and pain relief is available."

Dr John Garner, from Edinburgh, called on the doctors to go further and support an "open and transparent" system that allowed patients to request an assisted death.

"I have no compunction about saying that if I was dying from a terminal illness, and life had become completely joyless and I was in pain, I would want to consider assisted suicide," he said.

But Dr Ian Bailey, a member of the BMA consultants' committee, said doctors should not support physician-assisted suicide. "It is not a doctor's role to be involved. We should not be involved in intentional killing," he said.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said that a "conscientious objection clause" would be necessary. She believed that many doctors would not want to be involved in helping patients to die.

She said safeguards would also need to reflect fears that the elderly could feel coerced into assisted suicide because they did not want to be a burden.

Dr Evan Harris, the MP who had called for the BMA to change its stance, welcomed the vote as a "historic change of policy". "This is now a matter for Parliament to decide and the role of the medical profession is to press for the necessary safeguards, not to oppose an overdue move."

Why do they still speak of "safeguards" as if there is some mystical protective power they can invoke?

But both Care, the social action charity, and the Christian Medical Fellowship were dismayed by the decision.

Roger Smith, a Care spokesman, said: "Doctors are supposed to be the agents of life, not agents of death."

Dr Peter Saunders, general secretary of the fellowship, accused the BMA of "turning its back on the Hippocratic Oath".

Well said Dr. Saunders. The Oath was the safeguard and his colleagues have abandoned it. Again we see physicians renouncing the awesome responsibility they have held since the days of Galen, yet the significance hasn't hit me until now. They have given up their role as healers to become the political instruments of secular social policy.

Like the mined ramparts of Helm's Deep in Two Towers, the strongest bastion against euthanasia in Britain has fallen. Or more accurately they have thrown open the gates and stood aside. Tolkien would have despaired of his England.
papijoe 6:04 AM