Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Abortion and Euthanasia dominate ethics agenda at BMA annual meeting

Abortion and euthanasia are to be debated at a major BMA meeting later this month.

The British Medical Association (BMA) holds its annual representative meeting, where it sets policy for the next year, in Bournemouth in the last week of June.

An almost unprecedented number of motions on abortion and euthanasia are listed on the agenda for the section on medical ethics on Wednesday 27 June.

In total 45 motions on ethics have been listed for the 95 minute session which is scheduled from 1000am to 1135am and no less than 33 deal with either abortion or euthanasia.

13 motions deal with abortion, with the majority either calling for women considering abortion to receive access to ‘neutral counselling’ which is ‘independent of the abortion provider’ or for abortion on the grounds of gender alone to be made illegal.

20 motions deal with euthanasia or assisted suicide with 14 supporting a relaxation of the BMA’s position and 6 supporting the status quo of opposition to a change in the law.

Nine of the 14 motions supporting relaxation call for the BMA to adopt a neutral position on ‘assisted dying’ and use almost identical wording despite coming through five different BMA divisions – Shropshire, North West Regional Council, Retired Members Forum, Islington and Suffolk.

The language of all these motions is that of the campaigning group Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) and without doubt they represent a carefully orchestrated ploy by the pressure group Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD), which operates under the DID umbrella, to soften up medical and public opinion in advance of a new assault on the law.

This latest move is part of a larger campaign that Dignity in Dying is running over the next month leading up to a celebrity-endorsed lobby on parliament on 4 July.

HPAD originally registered as Healthcare Professionals for Change in October 2010 but has since changed its name.

It contains a number of well-recognised campaigners for the legalisation of various forms of euthanasia including former Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris. Overall it has 520 supporters listed on its website.

Being a trade union, the BMA is particularly susceptible to moves by small pressure groups.

Motions at the ARM are always prioritised and it is therefore virtually certain that only two abortion motions and one euthanasia motion (328, 329 and 332) will be debated (see below).

The other 30 motions on these two issues are very unlikely to be reached.

It is interesting that whilst the two abortion motions are seeking to tighten BMA policy the one euthanasia motion is seeking to loosen it.

The BMA has supported Britain’s abortion policy, which allows over 200,000 abortions annually for many years.

But the union has always been opposed to any change of the law to allow euthanasia or assisted suicide apart from one year of its history (2005-2006) when it was briefly neutral.

The wording of these three motions is below.

The motions set to be debated

* 328 Motion by THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (MOTION TO BE PROPOSED BY THE HARROGATE DIVISION):
That this Meeting:-
i) supports the universal availability of neutral counselling for women considering abortion;
ii) believes that any counselling provided for women considering abortion should accord with NHS standards;
iii) believes that women considering abortion should be able to access counselling that is
independent of the abortion provider;
iv) deplores picketing and intimidation around abortion services.

* 329 Motion by THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (MOTION TO BE PROPOSED BY THE GREENWICH, AND BROMLEY DIVISION):
That this Meeting believes that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is unacceptable and demands that :-
i) such practice should cease forthwith;
ii) the law should be changed to make this practice illegal in the UK.

* 332 Motion by THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (MOTION TO BE PROPOSED BY THE SHROPSHIRE DIVISION):
That this Meeting:-
i) believes that assisted dying is a matter for society and not for the medical profession;
ii) believes that the BMA should adopt a neutral position on change in the law on assisted dying.

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