Patients cannot force surgeons to undertake an operation that the surgeon knows will be harmful

This analogy applies to “the people” forcing MPs to pursue Brexit

I have previously argued that the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union no longer constitutes valid consent for leaving because important, relevant, and material information about possible consequences has come to light in the intervening two years. I compared the situation with that of a patient deciding whether to proceed with a surgical operation after a two-year delay in which much new evidence has been published.

I have argued for a second referendum to provide valid consent. Now, suppose that a second referendum still votes to leave the EU? What should MPs do? It would seem clear that they must honour the result of the vote. But we know that in the 2016 referendum most members of the House of Commons are believed to have voted remain, so based on the views of our MPs alone, the UK would not leave the EU.

In my opinion, the population of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (and that of the other 27 EU members) are better off if we remain in the EU. The prospect of economic harm and the rise of xenophobia fill me with gloom. We should be uniting to deal with the challenge of global warming, not wasting our time in endless circular logical impossibilities.  

So, from my perspective as a GP and surgeon, I offer another thought. Suppose I had discussed a surgical procedure with my patient in 2016 and we had agreed to proceed at some point in the future. Now, two years later, new research has found that the procedure we had planned will cause serious harm to the patient. I tell the patient and the patient still wishes to proceed. Must I now operate?

The answer is surely no. I have a duty of care—“first do no harm”. I must decline, but offer the patient a second opinion. They must find a new surgeon with whom to work. If that surgeon chooses to proceed, they do so at their own risk and with their own ethical standards. The patient cannot force me to undertake surgery that I know to be harmful.

By analogy, the population of Great Britain and Northern Ireland cannot force their MPs to act in a way that those MPs believe will harm the people. They can however elect different MPs when they next get the choice.

I contend that MPs must be given a free vote in matters relating to discussion of our membership of the EU, and if they cannot agree, they should move to a general election.  

See alsoThere is no version of Brexit which will benefit the NHS—only varying degrees of harm

Peter Bailey is a locum General Practitioner in Cambridge.

Competing interests: None declared.