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More than two-thirds of GPs want their professional body to drop opposition to assisted dying

Pulse, the magazine for general practioners, has found that two-thirds of GPS are in favour of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) dropping its opposition to assisted dying.

Their survey found that:

  • 38% of the GP respondents said they favoured the RCGP adopting a neutral stance
  • 31% said the college should go further and support a change in the law on assisted dying
  • 31% said the college should continue to oppose any change in the law on assisted dying

Further evidence, if it was needed, that medical opinion is divided. Writing in a personal capacity, Former Chair of the RCGP, Clare Gerada, expressed her view that the RCGP should not interfere with the assisted dying debate because:

the RCGP’s ‘collective’ view should not trump the view of the man on the Clapham Omnibus.

The findings of the Pulse survey reinforces an earlier survey conducted by Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD) which also found that two thirds of doctors agree medical bodies should take a neutral position on assisted dying.

Why this is important – respecting patient choice

As campaigners for change, we of course would prefer the organisations representing healthcare professionals to support an assisted dying law – in doing so it would recognise that choice extends both to those dying patients who want an assisted death and to healthcare professionals as to whether they assist (those opposed in principle would be protected by a conscientious objection clause).

Nevertheless we respect the fact that the members of professional healthcare bodies hold a range of strongly held views. Adopting a position of neutrality is the best way to reflect all these views.

Some argue that neutrality curtails the ability of professional bodies to express their views. In reality, the professional bodies would still have an important role to play in commenting on the specifics of proposed legislation including the quantity and quality of safeguards. What neutrality would do is prevent the professional bodies from making an ethical argument either in favour or against. An ethical argument that professional bodies are no better qualified to make than patients.

Legalising assisted dying should be a matter for society as a whole to decide. No particular group should have a disproportionate say on the decision. Organisations representing healthcare professional should not use their influence to impose the beliefs of some of their members on dying patients.

Every major poll on this issue has shown that an overwhelming majority of the British public support a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults.

Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD)

HPAD are a group of healthcare professionals who do not believe that dying patients should have to suffer against their wishes or travel abroad to die.

One of the key aims of HPAD has been to urge the professional bodies to take a neutral stance on assisted dying. You can read the current HPAD chair, Ray Tallis’ case for neutrality here.

HPAD held their most recent AGM this November . Speaking at the event were Conservative MP, the Rt Hon Richard Ottaway MP, and palliative care specialist Professor Sam Ahmedzai.

Originally opposed to a change in the law, professional experience and international evidence changed Professor Ahmedzai’s mind. At the AGM he expressed a need to continually innovate palliative care ensuring a patient focused approach, including the option of an assisted death.

Visit the HPAD website for more information on their aims and information on how to join free of charge.