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Dr Evan Harris MP: Christian Medical Fellowship seeking to dictate BMA Policy on Assisted Dying (28 June 2006)

28 June 2006

Dr Evan Harris MP: Christian Medical Fellowship seeking to dictate BMA Policy on Assisted Dying

Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Dr Evan Harris MP, has accused religious lobby group, the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) of seeking to dictate policy on assisted dying to the UK’s 120,000 BMA members and doing so without the transparency and openness traditional in medicine and even in politics. He is also referring to the Charity Commission the finding that the allegedly non-religious “Care not Killing” alliance is using the charity registration of the Christian Medical Fellowship to receive tax breaks for donations.

Dr Harris, who was a hospital doctor and is still an active member of the BMA, said:

“The Christian Medical Fellowship has been trying to ‘pack’ the BMA’s policy-making meeting in Belfast to get it to scrap the BMA’s neutral policy on assisted dying, adopted last year. Doctors should realise that a tiny minority of religious activists are seeking to dictate the BMA’s policy on a key ethical issue and are doing so secretly.

Dr Harris, who declares his interest as an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and a member of “Dignity in Dying” is releasing details of the CMF’s attempted manipulation of the medical profession. He said:

“The Christian Medical Fellowship has orchestrated the professional medical bodies’ consultations, it has dominated the letters written to the medical press while claiming these are ‘grassroots’ letters, it is targeting individual doctors for pressure and abuse, and it is hiding its religious credentials.

“Two thirds of letters to the medical press are from known CMF members and all but one omitted to declare their membership.

“The CMF has now gone one step further and has arranged for Care not Killing, supposedly an umbrella organisation including apparently secular interests, to use its charitable registration. This allows it to get tax relief on donations towards its political campaign against assisted dying. I am writing to the Charity Commission and the Inland Revenue to ask them to investigate this.

Dr Harris added:

“Doctors at large are divided about this ethical issue. But, whatever their ethical and religious views, they do not want this strident religious group unduly influencing BMA meetings and dictating policy. A neutral position is the only one that reflects the balance of views of doctors while ensuring that the profession retains an active role in formulating the detail of any new law including necessary safeguards. If the Christian Medical Fellowship turns BMA policy against assisted dying, doctors will never have been further apart from the views of patients and the public, a large majority of whom support the right to choose assisted dying when terminally ill.

Contact Dr Evan Harris MP (pager) on 07699 730 635 or Becky Purvis 020 7219 5128 / 07738 014 500

Notes to editors

Religious Activism in the Medical Profession

1. Christian Medical Fellowship, an organisation which states (on its website):

a) Since the fall, the whole of humankind is sinful and guilty, so that everyone is subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.

b) Sinful human beings are redeemed from the guilt, penalty and power of sin only through the sacrificial death once and for all time of their representative and substitute, Jesus Christ, the only mediator between them and God.

2. The Care not Killing network was set up to be an umbrella organisation of diverse interests. Its website says that it has been joined by 32 groups, including the Christian Medical Fellowship But the registered charity number for Care not Killing – No 1039823 on the Charity Commission website, is in fact registered to The Christian Medical Fellowship. Can a body join itself?

3. Using somebody else’s charitable registration for your own political campaign would appear to me to be a very questionable practice, and I am today writing to the Charity Commission to raise this matter with them formally. Tax relief on donations given to this organisation for political purposes means the tax-payer is subsidising this campaign.

4. Is the Christian Medical Fellowship orchestrating professional bodies?

A range of professional bodies within the medical profession produced clearly co-ordinated statements, sometimes based on what they described as consultations, in perfect harmony with the campaign against the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. The Royal College of Physicians even rushed responses to one of its consultations into 48 hours to fit in with an orchestrated campaign from the new PR team that runs Care not Killing. Why the rush? It took four weeks to do its previous survey and then decided it needed to do another. That timetable alone is a deeply suggestive that the Christian Medical Fellowship has the professional bodies sewn neatly into its pocket.

5. The Royal College of Physicians Chairman, Professor John Saunders, cites the size of his postbag as the motivating factor in why the RCP revisited its policy on neutrality. The Christian Medical Fellowship website says there is a grassroots revolt against the policy of the BMA’s neutrality. Yet CMF members are predominantly the ones writing to the medical profession.. Out of 32 letters opposing assisted dying published in six of the main medical publications, at least 20 of them – 62.5% – were from known members of the Christian Medical Fellowship or the Catholic Guild of Doctors. Of the other 37.5%, some make the same points made by those in the CMF. The idea that the grassroots are in revolt is wrong. It is a myth perpetuated by the Christian Medical Fellowship to make us believe that most doctors support their extreme and prejudiced views.

6. CMF members don’t declare CMF membership when they write letters Of those 32 letters from known CMF doctors (written over around 18 months during the passage of the Assisted Dying Bill) only one declared CMF membership. This runs against the principle of transparency in the medical press.

<=”” the=”” christian=”” medical=”” fellowship=”” will=”” seek=”” to=”” reverse=”” the=”” bmaã¢â?¬â?¢s=”” policy=”” today=”” font=””>According to its website, Care Not Killing, backed by the Association for Palliative Medicine and the Northern Ireland Hospice Association along with numerous supporters within the BMA, will have a major presence at the BMA conference in Belfast from June 26 to 29.

8. Last year at the BMA conference, members voted to switch from a position of opposition to one of studied neutrality on the question of a new law permitting assisted dying with safeguards. Many similarly-worded motions have been submitted this year aiming to change the policy back to outright opposition. This will be debated on Thursday morning.

9. Opponents of assisted dying never accepted the result of last year’s vote claiming there was conspiracy within the BMA hierarchy to back neutrality, but their censure motion against the last year’s conference chairman failed on Tuesday morning.

10. Dr Evan Harris MP – Registered Interests

    • Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society
    • Member of “Dignity in Dying” (formally Voluntary Euthanasia Society)
    • Elected member of the BMA Medical Ethics Committee