Catholics were today urged to redouble their efforts to oppose a Bill to legalise assisted suicide after the British Medical Association adopted a policy of neutrality.
Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, an outspoken critic of the Assisted Dying Bill said the move by the doctors’ union should act as a spur to action by those who sought to uphold the inviolability of human life and protect vulnerable people.
He said: “The ambivalent position of assisted suicide adopted by members of the BMA must prompt us to be even clearer why the proposed change to the law constitutes a threat to some of the most vulnerable and also to the medical and caring professions which have long upheld the sanctity of human in treating patients.
“The voice of the BMA as a whole may have fallen silent on this moral question following the narrowest of votes. However, the voices of those concerned by the threat of euthanasia must now be raised.”
The remarks of the bishop came a day after the BMA voted to abandon its policy of opposition to “assisted dying” – a euphemism for assisted suicide and euthanasia – in favour of a position of neutrality by a margin of just four votes.
At the 2021 Annual Representative Meeting on Tuesday, a total of 149 votes were cast in favour of the change in policy, with 145 votes cast against Motion 70 while eight voting representatives abstained.
The BMA has maintained that the policy neither proposes nor support the involvement of doctors in assisted suicide and euthanasia but permits the BMA to represent the views of all members, irrespective of their views on the matter, including those who are not licensed to practice.
Groups campaigning to legalise assisted suicide hailed the result as signifying that the BMA no longer opposed the practice.
They hope to use the vote to put pressure on Parliament to vote in favour the Private Member’s Bill of Baroness Meacher, chair of Dignity in Dying, which will receive its Second Reading in the House of Lords on October 22.
In spite of the vote, doctors remain overwhelmingly opposed to involvement in assisted dying and the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Physicians have both resisted recent attempts to reverse their policies of opposition to the practice.
Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA’s Ethics Committee, said: “Moving to a position of neutrality means that the BMA will not lobby for or against a change in the law.
“But far from remaining silent on the issue, we will continue to represent the views, interests and concerns expressed by our members.”
But Sarah Wootton of Dignity in Dying, the group formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, described the vote as an “historic decision”.
She said the BMA was sending a message to Parliament “that assisted dying in rightly an issue for society, where the views of dying people and their loved ones should be heard loud and clear”.
The bishops of England and Wales last week wrote to the laity to tell them the Bill represented an “unprecedented attack on the sanctity of life” which must be combatted actively through prayer, lobbying and witness.
Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster, the lead bishop for life issues, said in the letter that it was now vital “to argue the dangers of the introduction of assisted suicide, which include the safety of people who are vulnerable due to external pressures, and the later liberalisation of the law which is evidenced by other countries which have introduced assisted suicide”.
“Many voices from the world of disability-rights and other allies are also very fearful and fighting this bill. Whilst there are clear arguments to support Catholic teachings, it is important to remember that this position is not only a matter of faith but also human reason.”
He encouraged all Catholics to pray over the coming weeks that the Bill would be defeated and to write to peers and MPs, particularly if they have strong personal stories and testimonies based on experience.
He also asked Catholics “to engage and share stories and reasons against the Bill on social media”.
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