Royal College of Physicians polls on assisted dying

01 Mar 2019

In February 2019 the RCP is polling its fellows and members on whether there should be any amendments to the current law to permit assisted dying.

Fellows and members of the RCP were polled on this same issue as recently as 2014 and the majority of those who responded at that time did not support a change in the current law. The Council has announced that the RCP will adopt a neutral position regarding assisted suicide until 60% of poll respondents say the RCP should be in favour of or opposed to a change in the law.

Steve Fouch, Head of Communications at Christian Medical Fellowship, recently explored some ‘question marks’ regarding the poll in an article in the CMF blog. He wrotewww: “Firstly, this is the third poll since 2006, and both those previous polls (the last in 2014) did not show a significant shift in opposition to assisted dying amongst the college’s members. It is not clear that anything has significantly changed since that last poll. Secondly, it is proposing that the college moves to a neutral position on the issue – neither for nor against. There are major implications for such a shift in position, and I will come to those in a minute. However, the college has said that whatever the finding of the poll of its members, it will move to this neutral position, unless a two thirds majority of those responding disagree......Thirdly, if the RCP chooses to go neutral on this particular issue, it will be giving euthanasia and assisted suicide a status that no other issue enjoys. Why should assisted suicide and euthanasia enjoy this level of attention, when there is no legislation pending in either Westminster or Holyrood? If the RCP does go neutral in March, it will give succour to those seeking a new attempt to change the law at parliamentary level...... Furthermore, by going neutral, the RCP will be forced to remain silent and take no part in any debate. Physicians would have no collective voice. Fourthly, as already stated, the majority of doctors in the UK continue to be opposed to a change in the law. Polls of their members in the last five years by both the RCP and the RCGP have shown no appetite to go neutral or support assisted suicide and euthanasia by doctors. Palliative Medicine Physicians, who deal with the dying on a daily basis, are 82% opposed to any change in the law.......Why choose to go neutral where there is such a strong opinion against euthanasia amongst doctors? Fifthly, assisted suicide and euthanasia are contrary to all historic codes of medical ethics, including the Hippocratic Oath, the Declaration of Geneva, the International Code of Medical Ethics and the Statement of Marbella.......Finally, to drop medical opposition to the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia at a time of economic recession could be highly dangerous. With many families and the NHS itself under huge financial strain, the pressure vulnerable people might face to end their lives so as not to be a financial (or emotional) burden on others is potentially immense”. Mr Fouch also warned that "Were the RCP to drop its opposition, and as a consequence a law were to be passed in the next few years, it would leave the medical profession hugely divided at a time when, perhaps, more than any other time in British history, we need to be united as advocates for our patients and for the highest priorities in a struggling health service." (As quoted by Christian Medical Fellowship)

The poll will remain open until 1st March.