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GP opposition to assisted dying plummets but Royal College of GPs remains opposed

Our response to RCGP survey results out today which reveal GPs’ opposition to change in law on assisted dying has plummeted whilst support has risen emphatically, but College resists shift in stance.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has today (Friday 21 February 2020) announced that it will maintain its opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying following a membership survey, the results of which are below, alongside the results of its previous poll.

What position should the RCGP take in relation to a change in the law on assisted dying (%):

Responding to the RCGP’s announcement, Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“This poll reveals an emphatic shift in views from 2013, with over half of GPs voting for the RCGP to drop its opposition to assisted dying. For the College to wilfully ignore these results raises serious questions about its credibility as a representative body. Why bother asking members for their views if they are then completely disregarded? This regressive decision also abandons patients, the vast majority of whom want to see a change in our cruel, outdated assisted dying laws.

“Parliament should take note of this dramatic shift in medical opinion: the proportion who feel the RCGP should oppose a change in the law has plummeted from 77% to less than half, and those who want the College to support change has increased eight-fold to 40%. The Royal College of Physicians’ (RCP) survey last year also demonstrated that there is now a wide spectrum of views in the medical profession towards supporting greater patient choice at the end of life, and the policies of medical organisations need to reflect that.

“The RCP sensibly and pragmatically took the decision to drop their longstanding opposition in favour of neutrality, and there is no reason why the RCGP should not follow suit. They would join the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Nursing Scotland, Royal Society of Medicine, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Royal College of Radiologists, Royal College of Anaesthetists and medical organisations around the world which contribute constructively to the assisted dying debate without campaigning for or against law change.

“What must remain central in this debate are the voices of those who are most affected by the UK’s blanket ban on assisted dying: terminally ill people who are denied a meaningful say over their death, and their loved ones who must choose between watching them suffer or breaking the law. As the British Medical Association currently asks their own members for their views for the very first time, we hope doctors consider their patients, and the 84% of the public who want to see our cruel, outdated laws changed.”


Notes to Editor:

For further information and interview requests please contact Ellie Ball, Media & Campaigns Manager at Dignity in Dying: / 0207 479 7732 / 07725 433 025

Healthcare professionals

The Royal College of GPs has today announced it will maintain its opposition to assisted dying despite a dramatic shift in views from its 2013 poll.

The British Medical Association is currently conducting its first ever membership survey on assisted dying, which is open until 27 February 2020.

Last year, the Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a member survey.

Assisted dying proposals in the British Isles and Crown Dependencies

The Government of Jersey announced in February 2020 that it would launch a Citizen’s Jury on assisted dying, which will give recommendations to the States Assembly ahead of a debate at the end of this year. In 2019 the Government of Jersey announced that it would undertake detailed research into the views of residents, overseas developments and potential legislation.

A Westminster Hall debate on assisted dying took place on 23 January 2020, in which a majority of speakers backed growing calls from across society for an inquiry into the UK’s current laws on assisted dying. The functioning and impact of the current law was debated at a backbench business committee debate in July 2019. Proposals for assisted dying legislation were last debated in the Commons in September 2015.

The Isle of Man’s Parliament, Tynwald, debated assisted dying at its January sitting on 22 January 2020. It last debated legislation in 2015.

The Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands voted in favour of two motions on assisted dying in July 2018 (that terminally ill residents should have the right to die at a time and place of their choosing, and that should legislation be introduced in the UK, the Falkland Islands would consider adopting it).

The States of Guernsey last debated assisted dying proposals in May 2018.

International developments

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. Western Australia voted to legalise a similar bill in December 2019.

New Zealand will put an End of Life Choice Bill to a public referendum in September 2020 after the legislation passed third reading in November 2019.

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.

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 (Populus, 2019).

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.