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Sunday, July 4, 1999 Published at 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK


Virtual debate on doctor-assisted suicides

Public can submit their views on physician-assisted suicide

The public will be able to contribute views on how to formulate a policy on physician-assisted suicide over the Internet.

The British Medical Association has launched a new Website to seek opinions on how a consensus view can be agreed on the subject.

BBC News' James Westhead reports on a controversial issue
Physician-assisted suicide is when a patient asks their doctor to provide them with drugs that will shorten or end life.

The BMA plans to hold a conference next year to formulate a policy on the issue.

End-of-life guidelines

Recently the association published guidance to doctors on withdrawing or withholding care from terminally-ill patients, a practice some groups refer to as passive euthanasia.

However, the BMA disagrees. The association is opposed to euthanasia and says it is good medical practice to end treatment that does more harm than good.

Pro-life groups say even considering physician-assisted suicide is the next step on the way to fully legalised euthanasia.

It is this confusion and disagreement over terminology that has led the BMA to launch the Website.

"We are looking for common ground on which to hold the debate as a preliminary to the conference next year," a BMA spokesman said.

"One of the things we have to settle is the terminology - to get definitions of what is meant by euthanasia, what is meant by physician-assisted suicide."

Way forward

He stressed that the BMA was not seeking opinions on whether it was right or wrong, rather a consensus opinion on how to progress.

He said the association had trawled the web and had found thousands of papers addressing the issue.

Health: Background Briefing: Euthanasia
"We're going to put some of this literature - from the BMA and others - on the Website to allow people to have a look at all this.

"But very few of these papers address the issue of consensus - most of them focus on the arguments and conflict.

"Searching for consensus is something that hasn't really been undertaken before, and certainly hasn't been achieved and we want to use the Website to encourage discussion to take things forward."

The BMA announced the Website as it started its Annual Representative Meeting in Belfast.

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Internet Links

BMA physician-assisted suicide Website

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The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

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