Palliative care doctors overwhelmingly oppose assisted suicide, new poll reveals

Seven out of ten palliative care doctors surveyed believe the British Medical Association (BMA) should remain opposed to assisted suicide, a new survey has revealed.

The largest poll to date of British medics’ views also showed that only 30% of doctors surveyed supported the BMA actively supporting attempts to change the law to allow euthanasia. Whereas 63% of doctors opposed the BMA supporting a law change or be neutral on the matter, with 40% expressing the view that the BMA should stay with it’s current position opposing a law change and 23% holding the position that is should be neutral on the matter.

When asked whether the BMA support a change in law which would permit physician-assisted suicide, 40% of doctors said it should actively support a law change, 33% said it should stick with its present policy of opposing a law change, and 21% backed a neutral stance.

However, 70% of palliative care doctors opposed a change in the medical bodies stance, whilst just 7% were in favour.

Some 44% of geriatricians were opposed to the BMA changing their stance on assisted suicide, whilst only 27% were in favour.

General Practitioners, too, seem less keen on seeing a change in the law, a result echoing the findings of their own Royal College earlier this year.

In comparison, calls for changing the BMA’s stance on assisted suicide came largely from doctors who rarely deal face-to-face with patients, such as histopathologists.

Support was also bolstered by those who have never practised medicine because they are students or do not hold a license to practice, and retired doctors.

Conscientious objection could become an issue

If the law regarding assisted suicide were to change in the future, the right to conscientiously object and opt-out of administering life-ending drugs could become an issue.

Despite doctors narrowly being in favour of a change of law, 54% of doctors revealed in the poll that they would not be willing to participate actively in the process of administering life-ending drugs. Only 26% said they would be willing, and 20% were undecided.

So, while there appears to be an appetite for allowing patients to end lives, it seems there is much less enthusiasm for providing such assistance. In Canada, the Superior Court of Justice Division Court of Ontario ruled in 2018 that if doctors are unwilling to perform legal actions, such as assisted suicide, they should find another job.

What happens next

Currently, the BMA believes that “the ongoing improvement in palliative care allows patients to die with dignity … [and] insists that physician-assisted suicide … voluntary euthanasia … [and] non-voluntary euthanasia should not be made legal in the UK.” 

The doctors’ union has had a policy opposing assisted suicide since the 1950s, but very briefly became neutral on the issue in 2005.

Since then, the BMA has been opposed to all forms of assisted suicide – a position they reaffirmed in 2016 at the organisation’s annual representative meeting.

While the BMA emphasised that the poll was not a vote and did not commit them to any change in its formal opposition to assisted suicide, it is possible doctors will call for a formal change in the medical bodies stance on assisted suicide during its next annual meeting due to take place next summer.

The results had been due for release and debate this summer, but the BMA’s annual meeting was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Duty of care

Earlier this year, as the BMA was collecting responses on its survey, a large group of prominent palliative care doctors called on the BMA to uphold their duty of care and remain opposed to assisted suicide.

In a letter published in The Times, over fifty palliative care doctors and healthcare professionals said the existing law, which prohibits any form of assisted suicide or euthanasia, “ensures that doctors continue to uphold their duty of care, avoiding the inherent risks to sick and vulnerable patients that physician assisted suicide would bring”.

The doctors also used the letter to highlight how safeguards are ignored and eligibility criteria is soon expanded in countries that allow assisted suicide. Referencing Canada, the doctors say: 

“Canada’s Federal government has consulted on expanding assisted dying laws to the mentally ill, to ‘mature minors’ and individuals whose deaths are not imminent. Meanwhile Canadian hospices are facing pressure to provide assisted death or risk losing their funding.”

‘Mendacious claims’

Commenting on the poll, Dr Gordon Macdonald, Chief Executive of Care Not Killing said

“We welcome the fact that many active medics have repeatedly rejected the mendacious claims made by those pushing for this change, namely that legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia can be done with safeguards and would not put pressure, real or perceived, on vulnerable people to end their lives prematurely.

“They have seen what happens in the small number of jurisdictions that have gone down this dangerous path – places like Oregon and Washington. These two US states are held up as the model to copy, but in both, a majority of those opting to end their lives cite fear of being a burden as among their key reasons, and others talk about financial concerns. While the list of conditions that qualify for the lethal cocktail of barbiturates continues to grow, some experts have warned that allowing assisted dying might also be normalising suicide in the general population. Suicide rates are, after all, a third higher in Oregon than the US average.

“In Canada, last year a Court struck down the requirement that a person be terminally ill before they qualify for euthanasia. This followed the case of Alan Nichols, a former school caretaker who was physically healthy, but struggled with depression. His life was ended by lethal injection in July. Roger Foley, meanwhile, was repeatedly offered the drugs to kill himself, while being denied the social care to live a dignified life, due to the cost.

“Closer to home, we see how laws introduced in the Netherlands or Belgium, which were supposed to be limited to mentally competent terminally ill adults, have been extended to non-mentally competent adults and children, profoundly disabled people, and even those with treatable psychiatric problems such as depression and anorexia.”

Current laws protect

Dr Macdonald concluded: “The current laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia exist to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed or disabled from feeling obliged to end their lives. They protect those who have no voice against exploitation and coercion and those who care for them who might come under pressure to conserve scarce resources. They do not need changing.”

Censorship zone in Manchester will deny pregnant women emotional and practical support

Pregnant women will be denied emotional and practical support outside one of the UK’s largest abortion clinics under a new public space protection order (PSPO) setup by Manchester City Council.

The new censorship zone not only prevents women from being offered support but will also ban peaceful pro-life demonstrations and prayer outside Marie Stopes International’s Manchester Centre abortion clinic.

It will come into effect on Friday 9 October and will last for three years. However, a challenge to the censorship zone can be made to the High Court in the next six weeks.

Marie Stopes International’s Manchester Centre abortion clinic is among the UK’s ten largest abortion facilities, conducting 4,264 terminations in 2019.

Pro-life concerns dismissed

Councillor Nigel Murphy, deputy leader of Manchester council, told the BBC the decision had been taken to introduce the order after “looking at the evidence and taking into account what people have told us”.

However, in the council’s final report on the consultation, the local authority chose to exclude over 1,000 responses for being identical in nature.

It means that less than 200 of the responses analysed were those who identified themselves as supporters of pro-life activity, while 1,311 people who identified themselves as supporters of pro-choice activity had their responses analysed.

As a result of the dismissal, Manchester City Council concluded in its key findings on the consultation that 73% of people were supportive of the ban. If the local authority hadn’t dismissed responses from pro-life campaigners, opposition to the censorship zone would have outweighed support.

Manchester City Council has now joined the local authorities in Ealing and Richmond in setting up a censorship zone outside an abortion clinic, while six other councils are reported to be looking into the issue. 

Home Office finds no reason to introduce censorship zones

Due to additional powers handed over to councils in 2014 by the former Prime Minister Theresa May, local councils can setup localised PSPOs and prohibit certain behaviours within them.

While these are typically used to prevent anti-social behaviour, PSPOs are increasingly beginning to target pro-life campaigners seeking to offer women emotional and practical support outside abortion clinics. 

This is despite a Home Office review finding “no adequate reason” for their introduction.

In 2017, former Home Secretary Amber Rudd launched a review into the scale and nature of pro-life vigils outside abortion clinics to establish if the Government would recommend the introduction of censorship zones. 

In the investigation, continued by the succeeding Home Secretary Sajid Javid, over 2,500 responded to a call for evidence, including abortion service providers, abortion service clients, those engaging in anti-abortion demonstrations, police forces and local authorities.

In 2018, Sajid Javid announced that the Home Office did not find an adequate reason to introduce censorship zones, stating that: 

“…introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature. In making my decision, I am also aware that legislation already exists to restrict protest activities that cause harm to others.”

‘Regressive’ censorship zone bill defeated

Despite this review, pro-abortion MPs keep attempting to introduce Bills which would see censorship zones introduced outside all abortion clinics in England and Wales

The latest attempt to do this failed to pass through the Commons at its Second Reading last week.

Speaking out against the now-defeated Bill, Conservative MP Fiona Bruce criticised the motion for being a “regressive step” that would undermine freedoms of speech and conscience.

The pro-life MP, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, said the majority of people gathering outside family planning facilities were acting peacefully.

She told MPs: “Let me be clear, I do not condone aggressive protest activities outside abortion clinics.

“But these are in the minority and imposing national legislation where it is not required to tackle these would be a drastic overreaction because of the potential damage this bill could do to the more widely held freedom of speech in this country.”

In her closing remarks, Fiona then shared the testimony of Alina Dulgheriu, just one of the many mothers who decided to keep their baby as a result of the practical and emotional support received outside of an abortion clinic.

As a result of the pro-life support she received outside an abortion clinic in Ealing, Alina will soon challenge the designation of censorship zones outside abortion clinics at the European Court of Human Rights.

Alina Dulgheriu launched the legal challenge so that other pregnant women could receive the same practical and emotional support she was offered – support which ultimately led to her keeping her daughter, Sarah.

Alina’s story is showcased on the Be Here for Me website, along with just a few of the many stories of women who have been helped by people outside abortion clinics, and the stories of women who could miss out on such support in the future. 

‘Vital lifeline’

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: “By attempting to restrict where women facing unplanned pregnancies can receive compassionate emotional and practical support, the ‘pro-choice’ lobby are removing real choice for women and revealing they’re really just pro-abortion.

“Wonderfully, many babies are alive today because their mothers were able to get the help they needed outside of an abortion clinic.

“This support offers a vital lifeline to pregnant women in crisis pregnancies and should be protected.”

How to lose the abortion debate

The abortion movement is facing a long overdue reckoning — and it’s not the right’s fault. Trump’s anti-abortion assault may be powerful, but it’s not why many pro-choice advocates are now questioning their morality.

Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is the culmination of his administration’s four-year attack on the pro-choice camp. Trump is the first sitting president to attend the annual March For Life, sign the Born Alive Executive Order and block Planned Parenthood funds. His bold stand should ignite pro-choice defiance and bolster the pro-choice camp. So why are so many in it doubting their view of abortion?

The problem comes from within the movement itself: the abortion lobby let radical, extreme voices take center-stage. By embracing the ‘celebrate abortion’ and ‘ShoutYourAbortion’ culture, they alienated middle-ground supporters and tipped many over the ideological edge.

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