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What is the role of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying?

Medical opinion is divided. Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD) gives a voice to those who are not represented by their professional bodies.

Professor Raymond Tallis, is a Dignity in Dying supporter and Chair of HPAD.

Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD) is a group of practicing, retired and student medical professionals who support the right for terminally ill patients to have the choice of an assisted death, subject to strict upfront safeguards. We now have over 1,000 members covering a broad range of professions – from nurses to surgeons, GPs to psychiatrists.

The case for neutrality

At the heart of the case for neutrality is that the legalisation and regulation of assisted dying should be a matter for society as a whole to decide, and no particular group within it should have a disproportionate influence on this decision. Healthcare professional organisations committed to shaking off the paternalism of the past should not use their influence to impose the beliefs of some of their members on patients: it is inconsistent with the idea of ‘patient-centred care’ and the principle of ‘no decision about me without me’.

The  following professional organisations are all neutral on assisted dying, acknowledging that this stance allows them to effectively contribute their expert knowledge without unduly influencing the debate on a change in the law.

  • Royal College of Nursing
  • Royal College of Psychiatrists
  • Royal Pharmaceutical Society
  • Royal Society of Medicine

A neutral stance accurately reflects the range of opinion amongst healthcare professionals, with a recent poll showing that 61% of GPs think representative bodies should be neutral on assisted dying and 40% stating that they would want the option of assisted death for themselves, with a further 25% being unsure whether they would or not.

Medical opinion is clearly divided and it is imperative that representative bodies acknowledge this. However, recent actions by some representative bodies show that there is still work to be done to achieve this.

Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)

In February, results of the RCGP consultation showed that between 40% and 50% of respondents did not agree with the College’s current stance of opposition to a change in the law.

Despite this, the RCGP chose to only select the 234 people who engaged directly with the College, not taking into account the 1500 that took part through their local RCGP body.

The 77% figure represents the views of only 180 people, and clearly is in no way representative of what GPs think.

Disappointingly this figure has gone on to be misused in various media outlets and in Parliament.

British Medical Association (BMA)

In June at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Annual Representative Meeting (ARM), despite 12 motions being sent to the agenda committee urging the BMA to survey its members on neutrality, not one was selected to be debated. An open letter was subsequently sent to Dr Mark Porter, Chair of the BMA Council, expressing concern at the failure of democratic process within the BMA. The letter, along with the co-signatories, which include two former Presidents of the BMA, can be read here. 

Royal College of Physicians (RCP)

Despite a longstanding stance of public opposition, prior to the Second Reading of Lord Falconer’s Bill, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) announced that it will consider whether or not to resurvey its members on assisted dying in the autumn. Whilst not a commitment, we welcome the recognition from the RCP that true representation of its members views is of paramount importance.

Are you a healthcare professional?

HPAD membership is free for all practicing, studying and retired healthcare professionals. If you fit the criteria please help by joining now and by sharing with anyone you know who would be eligible. We keep members up to date with all the latest developments and will let you know what you can do to contribute to the campaign.

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