Assisted Dying Bill Defeated in the UK

Nick Mulcahy

September 11, 2015

An assisted dying bill has been defeated in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. The vote was not close, with 330 members of parliament voting against and 118 in favor.

The bill called for allowing people with fewer than 6 months to live to be prescribed a lethal dose of drugs, which they had to be able self-administer. Two doctors and a judge would have needed to approve each case, according to the BBC.

The bill created a divide in the ranks of UK physicians, with doctors speaking out on both sides of the debate.

The bill was defeated despite one recent poll indicating that 82% of the public in the United Kingdom were in favor; the 5000-person poll was conducted by a group in favor of assisted dying, Dignity in Dying.

Before today's historic vote, UK doctors voiced opinions emphatically, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

"Society has moved beyond its tipping point on the question of assisted dying," said Jacky Davis, MD, chair of Health Professionals for Assisted Dying and consultant radiologist at Whittington Hospital, London.

"One day we will look back, as we do now at other social changes such as the legalization of homosexuality, and wonder how we ever tolerated such cruel attitudes," she recently wrote in an opinion piece in the BMJ.

But in an opposing viewpoint in the same journal, Ilora Finlay, MD, professor of palliative medicine at Cardiff University, in Wales, and cochair of Living and Dying Well, points out that "most doctors oppose the legalization of what is, in effect, physician assisted suicide."

She cited a survey conducted by the Royal College of Physicians in 2014 that found that 58% of doctors said they were against a change in the law; 62% agreed that patients can die with dignity within existing legislation, so a change in the law was not needed.

The legislation, which has been known as the Marris-Falconer Assisted Dying Bill, is based on the law passed in Oregon in 1997, which has since been adopted by the states of Washington and Vermont.

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