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Health group campaigns for assisted suicide law change

13 October 2010

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Doctors and nurses in favour of assisted suicide for terminally ill patients are launching a campaign to change the law on the right to die.

Healthcare Professionals for Change (HPC), a collection of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, wants to challenge the views of bodies such as the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and British Medical Association (BMA), which oppose such a move.

It is the first professional body established with the specific aim of changing the 1961 Suicide Act.

Dr Ann McPherson, who has pancreatic cancer, said many doctors thought that patients “should not have to suffer against their wishes at the end of life”.

The group’s founder went on: “By taking a hostile approach to a change in the law on assisted dying, medical bodies such as the BMA and the Royal College of Physicians are failing to adequately reflect the views of all their members.

“Alongside access to good-quality end-of-life care, we believe that terminally-ill, mentally-competent patients should be able to choose an assisted death, subject to safeguards.”

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying which supports the group, said: “It’s a real move forward.

“It’s important for doctors to be able to challenge the views of the BMA and other medical bodies. They need to be able to represent a wider viewpoint.”

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) moved from opposing assisted suicide to a neutral position last summer, and the HPC aims to encourage other Royal Colleges and the BMA to follow suit.

But Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s head of sciences and ethics, said: “Assisted dying is illegal in the UK so doctors are not permitted to help terminally ill competent adults to die.”

It is a “complex and emotive issue”, she said, but a motion to support assisted suicide has never been passed by BMA members at their annual meetings.

Copyright © Press Association 2010

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