BMA abandons a major principle of medical ethics

At the Annual Representative Meeting of the BMA in Manchester 2005 using a novel procedure, the BMA abandoned one of the oldest principles of medical ethics when it decided to give up its opposition to doctors assisting suicide.

Under conference Chairman Dr Michael Wills, who also chairs the association`s Ethics Committee, a novel procedure for making and changing policy was introduced.This involved first suspending the meeting`s standing orders.

There was uncertainty amongst delegates as an introductory statement was made outlining the current policy. This was followed by an open debate in which members expressed their views in general on doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The speakers were in favour of continuing the current policy of opposition to both by a margin of two to one. This was followed the next day by a brief summary and three options for voting upon. These were broadly to continue the present policy, withdraw opposition , or support doctor assisted suicide.

On the last day of the four day meeting, when many of the delegates had left, these options were brought back and voted upon. Speeches had been made in support of change by members of the Ethics Committee itself and the ruling Council in favour of ending opposition or even giving support to doctor assisted suicide.

The meeting voted narrowly to drop its opposition to doctor assisted suicide leaving the question to Parliament. It was unclear whether the meeting was quorate or whether there was any accepted quorum under this procedure.

Thus in an afternoon, 2000 years of one of medicine`s central ethics was abandoned following a novel decision- making process at a thinly attended meeting.

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