YouGov figures released as Royal College of GPs launches survey of its members on topic
New figures released today (Tuesday 5 November 2019) by YouGov reveal that four in five (83%) people with an advanced or terminal illness think that organisations representing doctors should have either a neutral or supportive stance on assisted dying. This comes as the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) launches a survey of its 53,000 members on the issue – the first since 2013.
The YouGov survey of over 500 adults diagnosed with cancer, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, multiple system atrophy or progressive supranuclear palsy also found that more than four in five (85%) said that their trust in doctors would either stay the same or increase under a change in the law to allow assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, whereby two doctors would independently assess whether the person is of sound mind and terminally ill with 6 months or less to live.
The RCGP, which last consulted its members on the issue in 2013 and is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying, announced in June 2019 that it would ask its members for their views again. This came months after the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) dropped its longstanding opposition in favour of neutrality following its own member poll. The British Medical Association (BMA), which is currently opposed to assisted dying, is also due to survey its 160,000 members in the coming months for the first time in its history.
The largest ever public poll on assisted dying, conducted by Populus in April 2019, found that 84% of the British public supports a change in the law to allow assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults.
Professor Sir Sam Everington, Barrister, MBBS, MRCGP, OBE, a GP in Tower Hamlets, said:
“Over 30 years as a GP I have seen a small number of terminally ill patients suffer despite medical staff doing all they can. Some of these patients, of sound mind, would choose to end their suffering but are prevented from doing so under our current laws on assisted dying. I understand that there are doctors who would find it impossible to help these patients if the option was available and I respect their views. But I would equally argue that this is about patient choice, and I know that there are brave and honourable doctors who would be willing to help those who want this option.
‘I believe that terminally ill people should be at the very heart of the debate on assisted dying, and as GPs we have a duty to listen to their views. Continuing to actively oppose a change in the law not only puts the RCGP at odds with dying patients, but it also leaves us lagging behind other medical organisations, such as the Royal College of Physicians. We need to adopt a new position that allows GPs to engage constructively in the assisted dying debate, represents the range of views held and puts patients front and centre.”
Anita Brown, 48, who has terminal small cell bladder cancer, said:
“I want the option of an assisted death in case my suffering becomes unbearable at the end of my life. I am shocked that medical organisations are campaigning to oppose something that the majority of their patients support. I appreciate that doctors have a range of views on this issue and they should be heard, but ultimately their patients’ wishes should come first. I believe the only fair and representative position for doctors’ organisations to have on assisted dying is a neutral one.”
The full results of the YouGov survey of people with advanced and terminal illness will be published later this month.
Notes to Editor:
All figures from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 502 adults in the UK aged 18+ who have been diagnosed with cancer, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, COPD, multiple system atrophy or progressive supra nuclear palsy. Fieldwork was undertaken between 30th August – 22nd September 2019. The survey was carried out online. The sample was drawn from a combination of the YouGov panel and open links shared externally by Dignity in Dying and their partners.
For further information or interview requests, please contact Ellie Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org / 0207 479 7732 / 07725 433 025 or Tom Davies at email@example.com / 0207 479 7734.
- The Royal College of General Practitioners has launched a survey of its 53,000 members on assisted dying, following an announcement in June 2019.
- The College last consulted its members on the issue in 2013. The result, announced in February 2014, was that the College should not change its stance, and as such, its current position is that it is opposed to any change in the law on assisted dying.
- The British Medical Association announced in June 2019 that it will survey its 160,000 members on assisted dying for the first time. The BMA is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying. Its policy is decided at its Annual Representative Meeting, which voted on 25th June by 193 votes to 113 in favour of the survey.
- The Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in March 2019 following a survey of its 36,000 members.
The law on assisted dying in the UK
- Assisted dying is prohibited in England and Wales under the Suicide Act (1961), and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act (1966) which states that anyone who “encourages or assists a suicide” is liable to up to 14 years in prison.
- There is no specific crime of assisting a suicide in Scotland, but it is possible that helping a person to die could lead to prosecution for culpable homicide.
- In a House of Commons in a debate in July and at Justice Questions in October, MPs have called on the Government to initiate a call for evidence on the damage being done to dying people, their families and public services by the current law on assisted dying.
Phil Newby v Secretary of State for Justice
- Phil Newby, 49, from Rutland, has motor neurone disease and has launched a judicial review challenging the blanket ban on assisted dying. He is asking the Courts to undertake a “detailed examination of the evidence” to determine whether the current law is compatible with his human rights.
- A permissions hearing took place on Tuesday October 22 2019 and a decision is expected in the coming weeks.
- Phil’s case follows that of Noel Conway, a 69 year old man from Shropshire who also has motor neurone disease and launched a judicial review challenging the current law on assisted dying. Noel’s case was rejected by the Supreme Court in November 2018, though its decision acknowledged that assisted dying is an “issue of transcendent public importance” that “touches us all” .
- Assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in ten US jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine (June 2019).
- Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people in June 2019. In Western Australia the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was recently passed by the state’s Lower House and will now be considered by the Upper House (Legislative Council).
- Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016. As a result of the Canadian Supreme Court’s judgment in Carter v Canada in February 2015, the Canadian government introduced assisted dying legislation in June 2016.
- New Zealand is currently considering an End of Life Choice Bill which passed a second reading in June 2019. If the legislation passes third reading, it will be put to a public vote in 2020.
About Dignity in Dying
- Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It campaigns within the law to change the law, to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live – something supported by 84% of the public.
- Dignity in Dying does not provide practical assistance or advice in ending life, nor does it provide enquirers with the contact details of organisations who do so.