February 24, 2024

British doctors debate ethics at annual meeting

The annual meeting of the British Medical Association defeated a motion that policy statements on controversial issues should be decided at the annual meeting rather than in its ethics committee. According to the BMJ, “there was a general feeling that the committee lacked transparency and was remote from the membership”.

Dr Greg Gardner, a general practitioner from Birmingham, cited approval given by the BMA’s ethics committee to the UK’s fertility authority and also to artificial reproduction by same sex couples. “The ethics committee may be in close touch with the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) but it is out of touch with ordinary BMA members,” he complained.

However, his proposal was opposed by all other speakers. A member of the ethics committee, Dr Tony Calland, praised it as one of the jewels of the BMA. “The knowledge, experience and wisdom of the invited members is second to none,” he said.

In other developments at the BMA meeting, the UK government was told that it had a “moral duty” to ban smoking in public places. “In recent years, laws on drink-driving and safety belts have turned out to be both effective and popular, and it’s time for the government to show the same leadership on smoking, obesity and sexual health,” said the head of science and ethics at the BMA, Dr Vivienne Nathanson. The BMA also reiterated its view that sperm donors should be given anonymity, in the face of a government decision to remove anonymity from April 2005. It predicts that the number of sperm donors will fall.