The RCP has been officially opposed to assisted dying since 2006, despite a survey of its members in 2014 finding that a majority of its members disagreed with that stance. The 2014 poll found that RCP members and fellows had a range of views, but no majority for any particular stance. We therefore welcome in particular the decision to adopt a position of neutrality unless there is a two-thirds majority either for the RCP supporting or opposing assisted dying.
Dignity in Dying believes neutrality is the right position for medical and healthcare organisations to take when it comes to assisted dying. The vast majority of patients are supportive of assisted dying (82% according to a Populus poll of 5,000 people in 2015), but the views of healthcare professionals are more evenly divided between support and opposition. A neutral stance allows those organisations to represent the full range of views of their members and, importantly, to contribute their expertise to the debate in a balanced way.
Other colleges including the Royal College of Nursing have adopted a neutral position and have therefore been able to engage fully in the debate on assisted dying, offering the expertise and insight of its members. The British Medical Association, by contrast, has never surveyed its members on the subject but maintains a stance of opposition.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“The Royal College of Physicians should be congratulated for its commitment to engage with its members, given the evolving context on choice at the end of life. We believe, as do many of their members, that their opposition to assisted dying does not properly represent the full range of views that doctors have about assisted dying. Modern medicine is increasingly taking the view that patients’ wishes are paramount, and when the vast majority of patients want to see a new law allowing assisted dying, we believe that healthcare professionals should pay attention.
“More and more countries, including Canada, Australia and the USA, are passing assisted dying laws that offer choice to dying people, protection to vulnerable people and clarity to doctors who wish to give their patients the decision over how and when they die. Over 100 million people worldwide now have access to some form of assisted dying. Medical organisations in those places have seen that providing the option of assisted dying to their patients should be seen as compatible with the doctor’s prime purpose, which is to relieve the suffering of their patients.
“The RCP is showing leadership on this issue, not just for the doctors it represents but also for society as a whole. It is now the duty of other medical organisations, such as the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association, to engage with their members in a similarly open and constructive manner.”
- In 2014, the RCP polled its members and found no majority for any position. While a plurality (44%) of its members believed the College should be opposed, a majority believed the College should either be in favour (25%) or neutral (31%).
- The Populus poll on public support for assisted dying was undertaken in March 2015
- Dignity in Dying is the largest organisation campaigning for a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults. It campaigns for assisted dying to be legalised in the UK based on the laws that have operated in the USA, beginning in Oregon in 1997 and have been copied in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Washington State and Washington, DC.
- Canada legislated to allow assisted dying for terminally and chronically ill adults nationwide in June 2016.
- Victoria State in Australia legalised assisted dying in November 2017 and will begin to offer assisted dying to its citizens later this year. It, too, is based very closely on the Oregon legislation.