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Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying disappointed at RCGP’s rejection of patient’s views on the issue of assisted dying


21st February 2014

‘I fear that this will further alienate those GPs who want to support the idea that there could be a more compassionate approach to end of life care’

In May 2013 the Royal College of General Practitioners began a consultation with its members on the RCGP’s collective position on a change in the law on assisted dying. The RCGP’s position on assisted dying since 2005 has been one of opposition.

The consultation garnered responses from 234 individual members as well as councils, faculties, committees and groups, and although responses ranged from full support of assisted dying to vehement opposition, the RCGP has resisted calls to change its position of opposition.

77% of members who submitted response forms directly to the RCGP (180 people) indicated that they felt the RCGP should maintain its opposition to a change in the law, with 18% (42 people) wishing to see the RCGP move to a position of neutrality, and 5% (12 people) supporting a move to a position of being in favour of a change in the law.

The RCGP’s decision is in sharp contrast to findings from a recent poll conducted by GP trade magazine PULSE, which found that, of 689 respondents, 38% said they favoured the college adopting a neutral stance on assisted dying, while 31% said the college should go even further and support a change in the law to allow doctors to help the terminally ill patients to die in the UK.

HPAD is disappointed that the RCGP has missed an opportunity to recognise that this is an issue which divides opinions, and reflect this in a position of neutrality, which would also respect the views of 80% of the general public. Neutrality is not about silencing professional bodies. The Royal Colleges have an important role to play in expressing views on how legislation and proposed safeguards will work in practice. The ethical rights and wrongs of a change in the law should, however, be a debate for society to decide more broadly.

Professor Ray Tallis, Chair of HPAD said:

‘HPAD is disappointed by this decision, given that the responses confirmed a spread of views among its membership. I fear that this will further alienate those GPs who want to support the idea that there could be a more compassionate approach to end of life care.

‘An assisted dying law with upfront safeguards, enabling healthcare professionals to support patients in choosing an assisted death if they are terminally ill, mentally competent and suffering unbearably at the end of life is far better than the current law prohibiting assisted dying and forcing the practice underground and denying some patients the help they need.

‘We will continue to work to ensure that all of the Royal Colleges and professional bodies assess their position on this issue, in the hope that some will have a more enlightened view on the issue than the RCGP, and take a position of neutrality.’


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