Palliative care doctors more likely to oppose assisted dying


Doctors who provide end-of-life care to the terminally ill are more likely to oppose the legalisation of assisted dying.

Figures from a British Medical Association survey found that three quarters (76%) of palliative care specialists were opposed to assisted dying, while over half (52%) of doctors in geriatric medicine, and half of those in cancer care opposed any relaxation of the law.

The analysis, by Care Not Killing, found that the majority of support for legalising assisted dying came from medical students (62%) and retired doctors (55%). 

The findings are from the BMA's survey of 29,000 of its members last month, and comes amid speculation that the organisation may soon overturn its traditional position of opposition to assisted dying. 

Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, told the Daily Mail there was a "worrying split" in opinion between doctors who care for the terminally ill and elderly, and those who do not. 

"This divide is especially acute when you look at students, who are still in training and lack the experience of practising GPs, palliative care doctors and oncologists," he said.

"I know that this divide will be considered carefully by the British Medical Association and their members."

Assisted dying remains illegal in the UK despite numerous attempts to change the law in Parliament and the courts.

Over 50 palliative care doctors wrote to The Sunday Times last month calling for the current law to be upheld. 

"Every legislature that allows 'safeguarded' assisted dying has seen its safeguards breached, starkly illustrating the gap between principle and practice," they wrote.

"This is a complex and emotive issue, but one thing is clear: it causes deep divisions in the medical profession — a profession already buckling under the strain of Covid-19.

"If ever assisted dying were to be legalised, the role of doctors must be limited to the provision of an opinion on the applicant's medical condition. It should be for the courts alone to make decisions — as they do now on life-or-death issues."