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Ethics briefings
  1. Martin Davies,
  2. Sophie Brannan,
  3. Eleanor Chrispin,
  4. Samuel Mason,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian Sheather,
  7. Ann Sommerville
  1. British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Martin Davies, British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP, UK; mdavies{at}bma.org.uk

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Assisted dying

Assisted dying remained in the news in autumn 2010 as a new organisation, Healthcare Professionals for Change (HPC), was launched in October with the aim of changing the 1961 Suicide Act. The organisation challenges the policy of the British Medical Association (BMA) and most of the Royal Colleges, which support the current prohibition on all forms of assisted dying. (Only the Royal College of Nursing has a neutral policy.) HPC announced that it would lobby for a legal change that would allow terminally ill patients to choose assisted dying, subject to safeguards.1

This is the first group of its kind specifically for UK health professionals. Existing organisations with a wider membership include Dignity in Dying, which claims to have over 25 000 members, the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide, which campaigns for elderly but not terminally ill people to obtain assisted dying, and Friends at the End, which was co-founded by retired GP, Dr Libby Wilson.2

HPC was established by an award winning writer, broadcaster and retired GP, Dr Ann McPherson. In the mid-1990s, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was later found to have pancreatic cancer with secondaries in her lungs. In 2009, her BMJ article, ‘An extremely interesting time to die’,3 summarised her experience of treating dying patients and, as a terminally ill patient herself, her desire to live as normal a life as possible while waiting to die.

Also in October 2010, a new organisation opposed to assisted dying called Living and Dying Well sent a briefing to parliamentarians in Westminster and Edinburgh. Founded by Lord Carlile and co-chaired by palliative care specialist, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, the organisation predicted that if assisted dying legislation based on the Oregon law were adopted in the UK, safeguards to protect vulnerable patients would gradually become …

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