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Top doctor backs Assisted Dying Bill

Dr Kailash Chand
Dr Chand: “No change is not an option”

Following the committee stage of the Assisted Dying Bill, the Deputy Chair of British Medical Association (BMA) spoke to the Observer about his belief that the law must, and will, change soon.

Dr Kailash Chand has thrown his weight behind the Assisted Dying Bill, saying:

Today in the House of Lords we are seeing a battle between those who are seeking a constructive way forward and those who, rather than identifying appropriate safeguards, are seeking to place barriers in the way of dying people having control over their death. Whether the law should change seems to have been settled. It is about how the law changes.

Speaking to the Observer in a personal capacity, Dr Chand set out his belief that the current law is not working and that the case for change is so clear now that  assisted dying will be made legal in the UK “within two years”.

How can the BMA claim to speak for its members?

Dr Chand’s view is in stark contrast to the BMA’s official policy of opposition to law change on assisted dying, a position increasingly out of step with the wide range of medical opinion. This was highlighted during the Assisted Dying Bill’s Committee debate by psychiatrist Baroness Murphy, she said:

The BMA has never asked its members; it would not risk it.

Baroness Murphy is not the first healthcare professional to voice concerns about the BMA’s policy, in July this year the campaign group Healthcare Professionals For Assisted Dying wrote to the Chair of the BMA Council criticising the “democratic deficit” at the BMA and calling on them to survey their members. Despite the BMA’s refusal to even consider this, the voice of medics who want a more patient-centred law is being heard while distinguished healthcare professionals and organisations continue to speak out about assisted dying. The British Medical Journal position is that “the Assisted Dying Bill should become law”  and earlier this year twenty-seven senior doctors, including eleven present or former presidents of royal medical colleges and a former NHS medical director, wrote to every member of the House of Lords in support of the Assisted Dying Bill. Furthermore, polling conducted this year by medeConnect and Medix UK has shown that:

  • over 60% of doctors believe representative bodies such as the BMA should be neutral on a change in the law on assisted dying

  • 57% of doctors think that a safeguarded assisted dying law is the best way to protect terminally people that want to die

No matter what view you take, it is clear that medical opinion is divided and the BMA should reflect this by surveying its members on a move to neutrality on assisted dying.

It’s time the BMA did the decent thing.