This article appears in the November 1999 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

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‘First Do No Harm’


The controversial "Ethical Guidance" on withdraw ing food and fluids from certain categories of pa tients, issued by the British Medical Association on 22nd June, is supported by less than one-third of the public, according to a CAPIBUS opinion poll published today (Wednesday 22nd September).

56% of 2,042 adults aged 15+ in England, Wales and Scotland thought doctors should NOT have a legal right to withhold food and fluids from patients who are not dying but might be permanently disa bled, while only 30% supported the BMA guide lines.

Opposition to the BMA policy is greatest in the north of England (65%), Yorkshire and Humber side (64%) and East Midlands (60%): among young people aged 15-17 (65%), respondents with chil dren in the household (60%) and the lowest three income groups (59%-62%).

The poll was carried out between 10th and 14th September for "First Do No Harm", a doctors action group opposed to euthanasia and affiliated to the recently formed "Medical Ethics Alliance". CAPIBUS is available each week in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The CAPIBUS team may be contacted about this survey at 0181-861 8009.

"Patients even more worried if they knew the whole truth"

Dr. Gregory Gardner, a Birmingham G.P. who is on First Do No Harm’s committee, commented on the poll result: "This indicates large amounts of unease, if not fear, amongst patients. This fear is of doctors and health care teams deciding on whether selected vulnerable people should live or die. Trust between patients and the medical profession is beginning to break down as organisations such as the BMA are used to subvert the ancient principles on which that trust is based. Ethical principles are quietly re moved and new ones put into place. The meaning of basic care is gradually altered. The new ethics replaces trust with dangerous and paternalistic medical autonomy."

When doctors abandon the Hippocratic ethic

Dr. Peggy Norris, Hon. Secretary of the committee, said: "It is horrifying that the BMA suggested withholding nutrition and fluid from helpless patients".

‘FIRST DO NO HARM’ has been the basis for medical practice for 2,000 years. The Holocaust of 50 years ago is evidence of what happens when doctors abandon this basic Hippocratic ethic."

For further information please ring Dr. Gardner at 0780 3872870 or Dr. Norris at 01481 64103

FIRST DO NO HARM, action group on euthanasia.

Committee: Dr. Simon Halstead, MRCPsych. (Chair), Dr. Peggy Norris (Hon. Secretary), Dr. Denis Daley FRCP., Dr. Greg Gardner. Address: Doctors who Respect Human Life, P.O. Box 17317, London SW3 4WJ, Telephone: 01481 64103; Fax: 01481 64162

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