• 55% of doctors survey now support assisted dying.
  • Public backing for law change remains more than 80% for more than 20 years.
  • BMJ say Assisted dying does not represent "leap into a dangerous unknown".

Medical experts are urging a change in the law to allow assisted dying in the UK in order to reflect the views of the British public and doctors.

According to a survey, 55% of doctors either agreed or strongly agreed that assisted dying should be made legal in defined circumstances.

Of the 733 who took part in the poll, 43% were against assisted dying and 2% had no opinion.

While the British Medical Journal (BMJ) note there is no "implacable opposition", the results are in line with a 2015 medeConnect poll of 1000 GPs, which found that 56% thought medical bodies such as the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of General Practitioners should adopt a position of neutrality on assisted dying.

According to campaign group Dignity in Dying, the British public's support for assisting dying has consistently hovered around 80% for more than 20 years.

In 2015, a poll of 5,000 people by Populus revealed 82% of people wanted to see a law that would allow a terminally ill person who has six months to live or less to have the option of an assisted death under safeguards if they are mentally capable of making the decision.

The BMJ is now urging organisations such as the BMA to move beyond their opposition to assisted dying and support legalisation.

A spokesperson said: "The current disconnect between BMA policy and the views of doctors and patients undermines the BMA's credibility, and its continuing opposition excludes it from the public debate.

"Assisted dying does not represent a leap into a dangerous unknown. Other jurisdictions have proved that it is possible to change the law, and doctors have shown that such laws can work hand in hand with excellent palliative care."

Assisted dying is currently legal in several European countries, including Switzerland, the home of Dignitas, and some US states.

Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the BMJ, added: "The great majority of the British public are in favour and there is now good evidence that it works well in other parts of the world, as a continuation of care for patients who request it and are in sound mind.

"We believe this should be a decision for Society and Parliament, and that medical organisations should adopt at least a neutral position to allow an open and informed public debate."

However, Bernard Ribeiro, a retired surgeon, argues that assisting suicide would damage trust between doctors and patients and "is a matter for the courts, not for the consulting room".

A BMA spokesperson said: "The BMA recognises there are a range of views on this issue, both from the public and within the profession. We most recently addressed this in 2016, when we undertook a major research project to engage with both doctors and patients to seek their views on the subject. This robust, detailed process culminated in a motion at our annual representative meeting, in which our members voted to remain opposed to physician assisted dying.

"What is clear is that there is a lack of consistency in the standard of palliative care throughout England, and the priority of the government and doctors must be on providing the best quality care to patients as they reach the end of their lives, regardless of where they live or their medical condition."

Assisted dying
The BMJ argues assisted dying has more support than ever and should be legalised Shaun Best/Reuters