Assisted dying campaigner: BMA vote to adopt neutral position on assisted dying is 'step forward'

Alex Pandolfo has early onset Alzheimers. He says it is slowly robbing him of quality of life, ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia reports

The British Medical Association's (BMA) decision to adopt a position of neutrality on the issue of assisted dying is a "step forward", a campaigner on the issue has said.

Alexander Pandolfo, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in March 2015 and has applied for an assisted death in Switzerland, told ITV News he hopes the BMA vote will encourage politicians to approach assisted dying in the same "open-minded" way.

The doctors' union voted 49% for, 48% against and 3% abstained on the vote to drop its opposition to assisted dying and adopt a neutral stance on the issue, including physician-assisted dying.

It means the BMA will neither support nor oppose attempts to change the law on assisted dying.

Alexander Pandolfo describes his 'extreme happiness' at the BMA vote

Mr Vincent said: "I'm extremely happy that the BMA have adhered to their membership vote, I'm really happy, for the members of their organisation and for those of us campaigning, it's another step forward to break down the arguments that were used in 2015 why it should be opposed."

He added: "The politicians are the people that are the obstacles to legislation being introduced, not the religious people, not the medical people, it's always been the politicians.

"Now I'm hoping that with this news... that politicians will start to support people like myself, my death, my decision, in calling for an evidence based inquiry into assisted dying."

Mr Pandolfo explained he had seen what dementia can do, after his father was diagnosed was the illness, and it was something he did not want to experience.

He said as a life-long supporter of assisted dying, it was "a no-brainer" to apply for an assisted death in Switzerland.

"I don't want to suffer, I don't want to experience the things the dementia will bring"

Asked why he wants to die, Mr Pandolfo said "he doesn't want to die but has two extremely limited choices" - either carry on and be "taken over by my illness" or travel to Switzerland.

"The Alzheimer's has taken control of me in many ways, and I try to have a balanced relationship with it, but I know that one day the Alzheimer’s will take full control and why I want an assisted death - I don't want to suffer, I don't want to experience the things the dementia will bring, and I will be much happier having a voluntary, human assisted death," he said.

Previously, the BMA had opposed assisting dying in all forms since 2006, a policy position that was reaffirmed in 2016.

But in February 2020, a survey of almost 29,000 BMA members found that doctors were in support of changing the law on assisted dying.

It found that 40% of members believed the BMA should support a change in law on prescribing life-ending drugs for patients to take themselves, 33% were opposed, 21% were neutral and 6% were undecided.

The survey also found that 50% personally believed doctors should be able to prescribe life-ending drugs for patients to take themselves, while 39% were opposed and 11% undecided.

What is physician-assisted dying?

Physician assisted dying is when a doctor is involved in measures designed to end a patient's life. This includes:

  • When a doctor would prescribe lethal drugs to an adult to self-administer to end their own life and meets the eligible criteria - this is sometimes referred to as physician-assisted dying or physician assisted suicide.

  • When a doctor would administer lethal drugs at the voluntary request of an adult, with capacity who meets eligibility criteria, with the intention of ending that patient's life - this is often referred to as voluntary euthanasia.

The eligibility criteria for physician-assisted dying would be set out in legislation in the future but a BMA survey concluded it should cover patients who:

  • Are adults

  • Have the mental capacity to make the decision

  • Have made a voluntary request

  • Have either a terminal illness or serious physical illness causing intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved.