Doctors urged to back reform of assisted dying law

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Jun 26, 2017
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Noel Conway, who has motor neurone disease, is challenging the ban on assisted dying

Stefan Rousseau/PA

Britain’s biggest doctors union is being lobbied to shift its position on the legal attempts by a terminally ill man to overturn the UK’s ban on assisted dying.

The British Medical Association (BMA) is opposed to the practice of doctors helping those with terminal illness to end their lives. But as doctors gather today at the association’s annual conference they will be faced with campaigners backing Noel Conway’s legal battle.

Conway, who has terminal motor neurone disease, is mounting a legal challenge to the ban. Campaigners will gather at the Bournemouth conference to call for the BMA to a move to a neutral position “to allow full and proper debate of the issue”.

Doctors will be among those campaigning for a change to the union’s official position. Campaigners argue that the BMA has adopted its policy on assisted dying without having surveyed its members on the issue. Polling released by the campaigning group Dignity in Dying last year found that just 7 per cent of the British public agreed with the BMA’s opposition.

“The BMA must face up to this reality,” Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said. “It needs to fully acknowledge the views of patients, the public and the diverse opinions of its own members.”

Wootton called on the association to “consider the evidence from overseas, which shows that compassionate, safeguarded laws can be implemented with effective protections for the vulnerable”.

In a statement, Conway said that the ban on assisted dying had “forced me to spend my final months fighting in the courts for my right to have real choice and control over my death”.

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