This follows successful petitioning from over 5000 doctors, patients and concerned citizens who were dismayed at the College’s lack of transparency and its decision to maintain opposition to assisted dying against the will of its members.
The RCGP announced on 21 February 2020 that it would remain opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying, despite a majority of survey respondents disagreeing with this position, and without its Council making public the full, weighted results for all questions. The decision prompted an outcry from GPs across the country, including Professor Aneez Esmail and Professor Sir Sam Everington.
The full, weighted results of the survey, conducted between 29 October and 15 December 2019, have now been released:
What position should the RCGP take in relation to a change in the law on assisted dying:
This comes as the Royal College of Physicians reaffirms its neutrality on assisted dying, having dropped its longstanding opposition last March following a membership survey.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“The release of the full, weighted results of the RCGP’s assisted dying survey is a victory for the 5,173 doctors, patients and concerned citizens who wrote to the Council over recent weeks, appalled at its blatant disregard for the will of its members and its unacceptable lack of transparency.
“These results reveal that opposition has dropped lower and support has risen higher since 2013 than previously thought. It is not clear if the weighted data was presented to Council ahead of the vote on the College’s position. If not, this raises serious questions about the validity of the decision to remain opposed to law change. A majority of members voted for a change in position, and they now have a right to know why their College’s Council felt it was appropriate to override the results of the survey.
“Measuring a potential change in views was one of the stated reasons for conducting this poll, however the RCGP’s original press release from February has been recently edited to indicate that a comparison with the 2013 survey cannot be made (on the basis of differing methodologies). It seems the rules have been changed retrospectively to suit the will of Council, with the membership disregarded once again.
“The Royal College of Physicians, however, has recently restated its neutrality on assisted dying – an eminently sensible position reflecting the range of views among members, arrived at through transparent, democratic means. The anti-choice lobby, which has for the past year unsuccessfully attempted to silence the RCP over its decision, is now changing the definition of neutrality to suit its own aims, falsely claiming that the RCP’s latest statement is akin to opposition.
“At a time when doctors are grappling with an unprecedented health crisis, this blatant spreading of misinformation and bullying of a medical college is truly appalling. We hope the British Medical Association will also resist these thinly veiled attempts to thwart open, honest dialogue on assisted dying when it releases the results of its own survey later this year.”
For more information or interview requests, please contact Ellie Ball, Media & Campaigns Manager at Dignity in Dying: firstname.lastname@example.org / 07725 433 025.
Notes to Editor:
The Royal College of GPs announced on 21 February 2020 that it will maintain its opposition to assisted dying, despite a dramatic shift in views from its 2013 poll. When it launched the survey in October 2019, the RCGP told its members it would provide the weighted and unweighted results for the RCGP Council to consider. Weighting the data ensures that the survey results are representative of the whole membership of the RCGP, even if a particular group/s replied to the survey in greater numbers than others. However, when the announcement was made on 21 February, only the unweighted results of one question of nine were released publicly.
It is not clear whether the Council had sight of the full, weighted results when voting to maintain the RCGP’s opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying. The RCGP Council was later petitioned by over 5000 doctors, patients and concerned citizens to publish the full, weighted data, which it has now done – several weeks after the initial announcement was made.
The British Medical Association conducted its first ever membership survey on assisted dying in February 2020, the results of which are due to be published later this year. Its current position (opposed to a change in the law) is also due to de debated.
In March 2019, 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.
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. The health committee of the Government of Queensland published a report in March 2020 recommending that legislation enabling terminally ill citizens the option of assisted dying be introduced, the result of a year-long investigation.
New Zealand will put an End of Life Choice Bill to a public referendum in September 2020, after legislation passed third reading in November 2019.
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.