Medical voices and campaigners urge BMA members to support assisted dying

Around 30 doctors, philosophers, academics, and campaigners have written an open letter urging members of the British Medical Association (BMA) to support assisted dying in its survey which closes this week.

The joint letter, printed in The Guardian today, was organised by the UK Assisted Dying Coalition, of which Humanists UK is a founding member, and follows just days after the Royal College of GPs voted to maintain their opposition to assisted dying, despite a majority of GPs wanting to move to a neutral or supportive position.

Among those who have signed the letter are Professor A.C. Grayling, Professor John Harris, Dr Henry Marsh, Dr Wendy Savage, Melanie Reid MBE, Dr Michael Irwin, The Revd Dr Scott S McKenna, and Professor Raymond Tallis.

The full letter and signatories is below.

As medical practitioners increasingly recognise the importance of autonomy and include the public in the planning and delivery of healthcare, it has become vital to listen to and engage with our patients’ wishes. Yet, when it comes to assisted dying, we have become out of step.

In 2006, the British Medical Association (BMA) moved to oppose assisted dying. Even back then, polls indicated considerable public support for assisted dying, and people rarely travelled abroad to end their life.

But, in the years since, public support for a change in the law has risen to around 90%. Despite the best efforts of palliative care, at least one UK citizen a week is forced to leave their home and travel to Switzerland to have an assisted death – which at best, is a decision fraught with emotional and financial cost, and at worst involves someone ending their life before they would otherwise wish.

It is time for change. Over 150 million people worldwide have gained the option of a safeguarded assisted death, as more countries, including Canada, have changed their laws. If other countries can achieve this in a safe and legal manner, why can’t we?

The BMA’s survey on assisted dying closes this Thursday. We urge members to vote in support of reform.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK

Carrie Hynds, Chair, Assisted Dying Coalition

Trevor Moore, Chair, My Death, My Decision

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland

Michael Tailbard, Deputy Coordinator, End of Life Choices Jersey

Peter Warren, Chair Executive, Friends at the End

Stacey Adam, Assisted Dying Campaigner

Dr Julian Baggini, Associate reader in philosophy, University of Kent

Professor Helen Beebee, Samuel Hall Professor of Philosophy, University of Manchester

Peter Cave, Lecturer in philosophy for the Open University and City University, London and chair of the Humanist Philosophers Group

Professor Matthew Clayton, Professor of Political Theory, University of Warwick

Professor John Dupré, Professor of Philosophy of Science and Director, University of Exeter

Dr Nicholas Everitt, Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy, University of East Anglia

Professor AC Grayling Master of New College of the Humanities, supernumerary fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford, and co-editor of the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism

Professor John Harris, Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester, Visiting Professor in Bioethics, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, King’s College London and Distinguished Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford.

Dr Alan Haworth, Philosopher and Author

Dr Peter J. King, Lecturer in Philosophy, Pembroke College

Professor Maggie Kinloch, Professor Emerita and former Deputy Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Dr Michael Irwin, Former Medical Director for the United Nations

Dr Henry Marsh, Bestselling author and Neurosurgeon

The Revd Dr Scott S McKenna

Professor Sheila McLean LLB, Emeritus Professor of Law and Ethics in Medicine, University of Glasgow

Professor Richard Norman, Emeritus professor of moral philosophy, University of Kent

Professor Eric Olson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Sheffield

Professor Janet Radcliffe Richards, Professor of practical philosophy, University of Oxford

Melanie Reid MBE, Author and Journalist

Dr Wendy Savage, Former member of the GMC and BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee

Dr Martin Scurr, GP and Medical Adviser Doc Martin

Professor Peter Simons, Professor of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin

Lord Jeremy Purvis

Professor Raymond Tallis, Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine University of Manchester

Nigel Warburton, freelance philosopher

Professor John White, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Education, University College London.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

See the letter in The Guardian.

Read more about our work on assisted dying.

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