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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 June, 2005, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Doctors split on euthanasia law
By Nick Triggle
BBC News health reporter in Manchester

End-of-life issues stimulate strong opinion
Doctors are divided on whether the law should be relaxed to allow terminally ill patients the right to die.

Some representatives at the British Medical Association conference voiced support for a private member's bill which would legalise the right to die.

However, some doctors called for the BMA to take a neutral stance, while others said supporting a change would be morally wrong.

The conference will decide on its official position on Thursday.

Calling for change, Dr Paddy Glackin, from Brent, said: "If you say we have no right to die, you are saying we have a duty to suffer.

Nobody has a right to be killed by a doctor
Dr Jane Orr

"If a member of a family sees someone in pain [and help them die] they risk a jail sentence."

And GP registrar Rachel McMahon added the current legal position was a "fudge".

Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor, urged doctors to drop their opposition to moves to legalise medically assisted dying.

He said there was a strong argument to adopt a neutral position.

"It could be that the BMA shouldn't campaign actively for a change in the law because of strong views that people hold in the association."

Opposition to change

But many doctors also spoke out against changing the BMA's position.

Dr Jane Orr, from Aldershot, said: "Nobody has a right to be killed by a doctor.

"It would undermine patient autonomy. It is morally wrong and contrary to codes of medical ethics.

"Let us, as healthcare professionals, get on with the task of working to get a genuinely gentle and easy death that all patients deserve."

Bristol psychiatrist Dr Robin Arnold said he could understand why patients would want assisted dying and would value the choice if he was ill and in pain.

But he added: "It is a complex issue."

And Dr Vincent Leach, a retired GP from North Nottinghamshire, said there needed to be more clarification over the issue.

He said there was a distinction to be made between physician assisted suicide - where doctors provide the means for a patient to kill themselves, and voluntary euthanasia - when a patient is too ill to administer the lethal medication, but consents to someone else doing it.

Changing focus

Dr Ann Sommerville, BMA's head of ethics, said: "The spotlight seems to be shifting from proposals for doctor-administered euthanasia to models which emphasise patients controlling their own dying process."

The doctors were debating the issue after Lord Joffe put forward a bill proposing a lifting of the UK right to die ban to "enable a competent adult who is suffering unbearably as a result of a terminal illness to receive medical assistance to die at his/her own considered and persistent request".

His bill ran out of time during the last parliament, but he has promised to reintroduce it.

Different models have been established in countries where some form of right to die has been allowed.

In Holland, assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia are responsible for one in 40 deaths.

Whereas, one in 700 deaths in the US state of Oregon are from assisted suicide - voluntary euthanasia is not allowed.

Watch views from a BMA representative

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