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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

ARM - day three - medical ethics

So, to the motions on Medical Ethics which saw some of the liveliest debates in ARM history - not surprising I guess, given the content of the motions and the fact that they apply to all branches of the profession across the UK.

Opening this section was Wales’ own Dr Tony Calland, Chair of the BMA Ethics Committee, who outlined the issues that the Committee continues to work on: top-up payments; pandemic flu; presumed consent; compulsory vaccinations; assisted dying and Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, which relates to the sharing of patient records (after a successful campaign the BMA recently managed to get this clause removed from the Bill).

On to the motions:

The first relates to spiritual care in the NHS – it follows this story. The motions which passed recognised that the NHS is committed to providing spiritual care to patients and noted guidance from the GMC on the inappropriate discussion of faith issues. Faith is obviously a sensitive and highly personal subject which would explain the heated debate which followed. While recognizing the importance of faith as a part of holistic health care, conference fell short of supporting doctors initiating the issue with patients.

Next up, a motion objecting to the proposed use of TV advertising for abortion services. The motion, proposed by the Yorkshire Regional Council, stated that the adverts will give the wrong message to young women and promotes sex as a values-free activity with a quick medical fix. For many different reasons, the motion fell and in my view, rightly so. It is important that patients receive as much information as possible, particularly women in a situation where they have to consider the complex and distressing decision of whether to continue with a pregnancy or not. As doctors, we have a duty to ensure that our patients have as much information as possible while exercising their right to choose.

Finally in the Medical Ethics section: assisted dying. This motion called for those people accompanying the patient in an assisted death, but not actively participating, be exempt from prosecution; and for patients who are terminally ill but who have full mental capacity to be allowed to make a choice on assisted death. Baroness Ilora Finlay spoke eloquently against this motion drawing on her particular expertise; and indeed both parts of the motion fell – although it was an extremely close vote with very convincing accounts from both sides.

So far it’s been a highly interesting, topical and emotive session.

More to follow...

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