In April 2011 the Association of British Neurologists (ABN) published the conclusions of a working group which had examined the issues surrounding the controversial subject of 'assisted dying'.
The working group had sought views from both sides of the debate as to whether the law should be changed to allow the deliberate hastening of death in the case of patients with serious neurological conditions who requested it.
It felt that it was appropriate "that the medical profession brings to this debate its own experience in the assessment of evidence" and noted that "contemporary society looks to experts and to the professions for information and guidance in these complex areas". While acknowledging that the principle of patient autonomy is enshrined in medical practice and in law, the working group observed that this principle did not extend to the involvement of doctors in bringing about the deaths of patients.
Having weighed the evidence carefully on each side of the debate it concluded that, while administering medication with the intention of relieving distressing symptoms was consistent with good medical practice even on rare occasions where it was recognised that this might have a secondary effect of shortening life, "interventions should not be given with the primary purpose of causing death".
These conclusions reflected the views of 86 per cent of those (some 25 per cent of the Association's membership) who provided written views. The working groups conclusions may be read in full here.