On June 29, 2006, at an annual meeting, the British Medical Association (BMA) voted to clearly oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The margin of the vote was 65 per cent to 35 per cent, a resounding victory.

Last year’s annual meeting resulted in the BMA taking a neutral position on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The 2005 BMA meeting orchestrated a vote on the last day and in the final hours of the meeting, which resulted in 53 per cent of the delegates supporting a neutral stand on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Many delegates were upset not only with the decision of last year’s meeting, but also with the tactics used to orchestrate that decision, since many of the delegates had already gone home.

Following that vote, Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition announced it feared that the change in the BMA position might affect the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), which works closely with the BMA, and also Canadian members of Parliament who were debating Bill C-407, a bill to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

The decision of the BMA delegates to once again  take a position firmly against euthanasia and assisted suicide should have positive ramifications on Canadian doctors. The CMA seems to align itself closely with the British Medical Association.

Dr. Peter Saunders, the campaign director for the Care NOT Killing coalition in the U.K., stated on June 29: “This is fantastic result for many organizations campaigning against euthanasia. It is a very important result in terms of political and public opinion. It means that the medical profession in the U.K. is now firmly united in its opposition to any form of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. This sends a very clear message to the public and to MPs – doctors who care for dying patients understand the serious danger that would arise from legalizing euthanasia. They have come to a clear conclusion today at the BMA conference that legalizing killing would create more problems than it would solve.

“Their verdict – that what is needed is better palliative care for the terminally ill – sends a clear message that what we need to do is to kill the pain and not the patient. The argument that decided this vote and the similar vote in the House of Lords last month is a simple one. For sick and vulnerable patients, the danger is that the right to die could become a duty to die as they feel pressure, whether real or imaginary, from family, carers and society at large to request early death.”

The Care NOT Killing coalition in the U.K. exists to promote more and better palliative care, to ensure that existing laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide are not weakened or repealed and to inform public opinion against any weakening of the law.

The coalition consists of 32 organizations, including the Association for Palliative Medicine, the British Council of Disabled People, RADAR, the Christian Medical Fellowship, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, the Church of England and the Medical Ethics Alliance.

Alex Schadenberg is executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.