Saturday 17 August 2013

World Medical Association reaffirms its strong opposition to euthanasia

The World Medical Association has reiterated its strong opposition to euthanasia. From the WMO Resolution on Euthanasia:

Euthanasia, that is the act of deliberately ending the life of a patient, even at the patient’s own request or at the request of close relatives, is unethical. This does not prevent the physician from respecting the desire of a patient to allow the natural process of death to follow its course in the terminal phase of sickness.

The WMO similarly opposes assisted suicide:

Physicians-assisted suicide, like euthanasia, is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession. Where the assistance of the physician is intentionally and deliberately directed at enabling an individual to end his or her own life, the physician acts unethically. However the right to decline medical treatment is a basic right of the patient and the physician does not act unethically even if respecting such a wish results in the death of the patient.

From ancient times doctors have sought moral guidelines both to guide members of the profession and to safeguard patients. The earliest of these was the Hippocratic Oath which was written about 600BC and has become the basis for all subsequent ethical codes.

Its moral requirements are broadly consistent with the Judeo-Christian ethic and at one time all graduating doctors had to sign it before they could commence practising.

Among other things the Oath states ‘I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked nor suggest such counsel’.

After the Second World War, and primarily because of human rights abuses by doctors in Nazi Germany, the World Medical Association adopted two modernised forms of the Oath - the Declaration of Geneva in 1948 and the International Code of Medical Ethics in 1949.

The Declaration of Geneva states, ‘I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception' and the International Code of Medical Ethics says that 'a doctor must always bear in mind the obligation of preserving human life from the time of conception until death’.

2011 study showed that doctors in the UK have opposed both euthanasia and assisted consistently over the past two decades. Researchers from Limerick, Ireland, used 16 key studies into doctors' attitudes between 1990 and 2010. The findings appeared in the journal Palliative Medicine and further confirmed the fact that those doctors who favour a change in the law, constitute a small vocal minority.

Sir Richard Thompson, past President of the Royal College of Physicians, responded to the launch of the small pressure group Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying in 2010, by eloquently outlining the reasons why a clear majority of the College’s members still do not support a change in the law.

The Royal College of Physicians is in good company. Other official UK doctors’ bodies opposing any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia are the British Medical Association (BMA), the Association for Palliative Medicine (APM), the British Geriatric Society (BGS) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

The British Geriatric Society in 2010 issued a strong statement on assisted suicide which outlined its concerns about how a change to the law would remove protection from vulnerable elderly people. The full statement is most worthy of study by all who take an interest in this debate. 

Britain would be wise to listen to its doctors and to learn from this strong international precedent when Charles Falconer and Margo Macdonald bring their bills seeking decriminalisation later this year.


  1. Of course they're opposed. There's far too much money to be made in forcing people to suffer against their will.

    1. ??? How does the NHS make money out of keeping people alive taking up hospital beds?

    2. Because they can bill people and their families for morphine, torture and "counseling" they don't want.

    3. What nonsense. If the NHS really wanted to save money it would be seeking to end people's lives. The cheapest patient is a dead patient.

    4. That was my point. The most profitable patient is one suffering interminably.

      Using morphine on patients who are sick of the torture has made many anti-choice organisations wealthy.

    5. The NHS offers care free at the point of delivery. It is paid for by the tax payer and is not a profit making organisation. Do you not live in the UK?

    6. Doctors and nurses still have to get paid, don't they?

      Think how many would be out of a job if people could no longer be forced to die naturally.

    7. Winston, normally your arguments at least make some sense, but this is absurd! Treatment is free to all on the NHS. People die on NHS waiting lists waiting for major operations because of a lack of resources. Nurses have gone on strike because the pay is so bad. Don't you live in the UK?

    8. No, I do not live in the UK.

      The pay of nurses is irrelevant. Someone still has to foot the bill for morphine and other drugs for palliative care. Big Pharma profits immensely from the mandatory suffering that occurs at the end of life.

    9. But it's not the pharmaceutical companies that are opposing this legislation, it's the overstretched hospital staff that are already trying to run on smaller budgets after NHS cuts! This argument might work in a country like the US, but, believe me, there is not a lot of spare cash sloshing round the NHS to pay for unnecessary morphine!

      In fact, all you're doing is convincing me that the real drive behind euthanasia is to save money for the rest of us!

    10. Cost-saving measures are irrelevant. Even if it was relevant, what's motivating you to spend so much money torturing people?

    11. I'm coming to the conclusion that there's really no point arguing with anybody as pig headed as you. But let's try again. The money is being spent (tax payer's money) to make people's last days/hours more comfortable. I think that in some cases people are given unnecessary treatment to keep them going for another few weeks, but that's another thing again. I don't believe in keeping people alive when it's their time to go - it's wise to write a will saying you wish medical treatment to cease at some point - but letting a disease take it's natural course is a very different thing from deliberately injecting someone with poison in order to save money on morphine and painkillers.

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