Britain’s biggest union for doctors today dropped its 15-year stance opposition to assisted dying.

The British Medical Association, which represents around 150,000 members, held a landmark vote after a survey last year revealed the majority supported a change to the law. More than 300 members of the BMA’s representative body participated in the poll.

A slim majority backed the change to adopt a neutral stance on the issue.  Slightly fewer than half of the BMA members who voted did so in favour of holding a neutral stance on assisted dying. Another 48 per cent were against it and 3 per cent abstained.

But, it assisted dying becomes legal, they said they would support medics’ right to refuse prescribing lethal doses of medication to patients if they object.

Assisted suicide is currently illegal. Anyone caught helping or encouraging someone to take their own life faces up to 14 years in prison.

But euthanasia, which is the act of a doctor deliberately giving a terminally ill patient a drug they don’t need with the sole aim of ending their life, is regarded as either manslaughter or murder. Offenders face spending the rest of their life in prison.  Assisted dying sparks strong debate from both sides, with some arguing that no one should be intentionally deprived of their right to live.

But others say the blanket ban causes needless suffering for terminally ill patients and their families.

Dr John Chisholm, chair of the BMA’s medical ethics committee, said the union’s neutral position means the association will not lobby for or against a change in the law, but ‘represent the views, interested and concerns’ expressed by its members.

The move comes after more than 100 medics penned a letter calling for the BMA to end its opposition to