Royal College of GPs will remain opposed to assisted suicide

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) will continue to oppose a change in law on assisted suicide, following a consultation of its members.   

The RCGP’s consultation, conducted independently by Savanta ComRes, was sent to almost 50,000 members, who were asked whether RCGP should change its current position of opposing a change in the law on assisted dying.

Just under half (47%) of those surveyed said the College should not change its position, while 40% said it should support a law change providing there is a regulatory framework and appropriate safeguarding processes in place.

11% of respondents said the RCGPs should be neutral, while 2% abstained.

The RCGP Council agreed that the survey results did not support a change in the RCGP’s existing position on assisted suicide.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Assisted dying is a controversial topic and this was reflected in the responses to our consultation. However, the highest proportion of respondents said that the College should continue to oppose a change in the law on assisted dying…

“The role of the College now is to ensure that patients receive the best possible palliative and end of life care, and to this end we are working with Marie Curie and others to support this.”

In a victory for pro-life campaigners, the RGCP declared it will not review the College`s position on assisted suicide for at least five years unless there are significant developments on the issue.

The medical body last consulted members on the issue in 2013, when the majority said the college should remain opposed.

Currently, no professional medical body supports changing the law on assisted suicide, which is illegal in the UK.

However, activists have been attempting to introduce assisted suicide legislation to the UK through the courts, medical bodies and parliament.

The British Medical Association (BMA) is currently surveying its member’s views on assisted suicide.  The results of the BMA survey, which closes on 27 February, will be discussed at this year’s annual conference in June and could see the professional body changing its current policy on assisted suicide.

Currently, the BMA believes that “the ongoing improvement in palliative care allows patients to die with dignity … [and] insists that physician-assisted suicide … voluntary euthanasia … [and] non-voluntary euthanasia should not be made legal in the UK.” 

However, the BMA is now asking its 160,000 members:

“whether they believe the BMA should support, oppose, or take a neutral stance on a change in the law to permit doctors to prescribe drugs for eligible patients to end their own life … [and] about a stance to a change in the law to permit doctors to administer drugs with the intention of ending an eligible patient’s life.”

The doctors’ union has had a policy opposing assisted suicide since the 1950s, but very briefly became neutral on the issue in 2005.

Since then, the BMA has been opposed to all forms of assisted suicide – a position they reaffirmed in 2016 at the organisation’s annual representative meeting.

In a letter published in The Times, a large group of prominent palliative care doctors have called on the BMA to uphold their duty of care and remain opposed to assisted suicide.

The Royal College of Physicians dropped its long-standing opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a 2019 membership survey, despite continued opposition to assisted suicide being the most favoured position among those surveyed. The change in stance from the college is currently the subject of a legal challenge.

In November, the High Court rejected to hold a judicial review of the current law on assisted suicide, with judges stating the court was “not an appropriate forum for the discussion of the sanctity of life”. The Court of Appeal rejected an attempt to challenge this decision last month.

Similarly, in 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that Parliament was a “better forum” than the courts for determining the issue of legalising assisted suicide.

Parliament has consistently rejected attempts by the assisted suicide lobby to introduce assisted suicide, with 330 to 118 voting against introducing assisted suicide in 2015. 

Just last month, strong opposition from MPs resulted in the Government rejecting a call for review on assisted suicide, despite the best efforts from large pressure groups in favour of assisted suicide.

Additionally, the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC has recently confirmed the Government has “no plans” to introduce assisted suicide legislation, saying: “Personally, I have grave doubts about the ability of legislation to be watertight when it comes to the potential for abuse.”

Assisted suicide pressure groups cite a poll that shows there is widespread support for legislation of assisted suicide, yet experts have heavily criticised the polling as deeply flawed. In fact, when asked questions that drill down into the merits of the debate, the percentage of those in support drops dramatically.

Lord Chancellor rejects Government review into assisted suicide law amid ‘grave concerns’

The Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC has confirmed the Government has “no plans” to introduce assisted suicide legislation. 

In a letter to Dr Gordon Macdonald, the CEO of anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing, Mr Buckland said: “Personally, I have grave doubts about the ability of legislation to be watertight when it comes to the potential for abuse.”

He added: “My predecessor was… supportive of a call for evidence but no call was initiated before he left office, nor… does the Government currently have any plans to initiate a call for evidence. This remains my position.”

Activists have been attempting to introduce assisted suicide legislation to the UK through the courts and through parliament.

In November, the High Court rejected a judicial review of the current law on assisted suicide, with judges stating the court was “not an appropriate forum for the discussion of the sanctity of life”. The Court of Appeal rejected an attempt to challenge this decision last month.

Similarly, in 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that Parliament was a “better forum” than the courts for determining the issue of legalising assisted suicide.

Parliament has consistently rejected attempts by the assisted suicide lobby to introduce assisted suicide, with 330 to 118 voting against introducing assisted suicide in 2015. 

Just last month, strong opposition from MPs resulted in the Government rejecting a call for review on assisted suicide, despite the best efforts from large pressure groups in favour of assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide pressure groups cite a poll that shows there is widespread support for legislation of assisted suicide, yet experts have heavily criticised the polling as deeply flawed. In fact, when asked questions that drill down into the merits of the debate, the percentage of those in support drops dramatically.

In addition to lobbying the Government and parliament, activists have been seeking to lobby medical bodies in the UK.

Not a single doctors group or major disability rights organisation in the UK supports changing the law, including the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Geriatric Society and the Association for Palliative Medicine. 

The Royal College of Physicians dropped its long-standing opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a 2019 membership survey, despite continued opposition to assisted suicide being the most favoured position among those surveyed. The process used by the College is currently subject to a legal challenge. Meanwhile, the results of a recent poll by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) are due to be released later this month.

The BMA, which is currently opposed to assisted suicide, has launched its first ever survey on the issue. The poll will ask their 160,000 members for their views “on whether the BMA should adopt a neutral position with respect to a change in the law on assisted dying”. The results of the British Medical Association survey will be announced in July at the medical bodies Annual Representatives Meeting. 

Assisted suicide pressure group Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society), which spent over £1,600,000 last year, said in an email to supporters “that the poll is happening is a significant win” for their campaign. Meanwhile, a large group of palliative care doctors have written to The Times calling on the BMA to continue opposing the involvement of doctors and that assisted dying will not become a medical intervention in the UK.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: 

“Despite the best efforts of well-resourced assisted suicide activists, who continue to seek legislative change through lobbying the courts, medical bodies and parliament, there is currently no appetite for such laws from any group. 

“The concerns raised by a large number of MPs last month highlighted just a small number of the reasons why the Government should look away from assisted suicide and instead fund better hospice and palliative care. 

“Any legislative change could place many vulnerable people at risk of abuse and put pressure on those with terminal and chronic illnesses and on the disabled to end their lives prematurely.

“Evidence from Oregon demonstrates how a so-called ‘right to die’ may become the ‘duty to die’. Feelings of being a burden were cited in 55% of Oregon and 56% of Washington assisted-suicide requests in 2017.

“This is especially the case when families and health budgets are under financial pressure, which makes the Canadian study which found that the legalisation of assisted suicide could save the health care system more than $138 million per year so alarming.

“Legalising assisted suicide would inevitably lead to pressure on vulnerable people to choose the quicker, cheaper option of death over palliative care.”

Large group of palliative care doctors call on BMA to remain opposed to assisted suicide

A large group of prominent palliative care doctors have called on the British Medical Association (BMA) to uphold their duty of care and remain opposed to assisted suicide.

The call comes as the BMA has launched a new survey of its members on the issue. The results of the BMA poll, which closes on 27 February, will be discussed at this year’s annual conference in June and could see the professional body changing its current policy on assisted suicide.

Currently, the BMA believes that “the ongoing improvement in palliative care allows patients to die with dignity … [and] insists that physician-assisted suicide … voluntary euthanasia … [and] non-voluntary euthanasia should not be made legal in the UK.” 

The doctors’ union has had a policy opposing assisted suicide since the 1950s, but very briefly became neutral on the issue in 2005.

Since then, the BMA has been opposed to all forms of assisted suicide – a position they reaffirmed in 2016 at the organisation’s annual representative meeting.

However, the BMA will now ask its 160,000 members:

“whether they believe the BMA should support, oppose, or take a neutral stance on a change in the law to permit doctors to prescribe drugs for eligible patients to end their own life … [and] about a stance to a change in the law to permit doctors to administer drugs with the intention of ending an eligible patient’s life.”

In a letter published in The Times, over 50 palliative care doctors and healthcare professionals said the existing law, which prohibits any form of assisted suicide or euthanasia, “ensures that doctors continue to uphold their duty of care, avoiding the inherent risks to sick and vulnerable patients that physician assisted suicide would bring”.

The doctors also used the letter to highlight how safeguards are ignored and eligibility criteria is soon expanded in countries that allow assisted suicide. Referencing Canada, the doctors say: 

“Canada’s Federal government has consulted on expanding assisted dying laws to the mentally ill, to ‘mature minors’ and individuals whose deaths are not imminent. Meanwhile Canadian hospices are facing pressure to provide assisted death or risk losing their funding.”

Activists have been attempting to introduce assisted suicide legislation to the UK through the courts, medical bodies and parliament.

The Royal College of Physicians dropped its long-standing opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a 2019 membership survey, despite continued opposition to assisted suicide being the most favoured position among those surveyed. The process used by the College is currently subject to a legal challenge.

Meanwhile, the results of a recent poll by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) are due to be released later this month.

In November, the High Court rejected to hold a judicial review of the current law on assisted suicide, with judges stating the court was “not an appropriate forum for the discussion of the sanctity of life”. The Court of Appeal rejected an attempt to challenge this decision last month.

Similarly, in 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that Parliament was a “better forum” than the courts for determining the issue of legalising assisted suicide.

Parliament has consistently rejected attempts by the assisted suicide lobby to introduce assisted suicide, with 330 to 118 voting against introducing assisted suicide in 2015. 

Just last month, strong opposition from MPs resulted in the Government rejecting a call for review on assisted suicide, despite the best efforts from large pressure groups in favour of assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide pressure groups cite a poll that shows there is widespread support for legislation of assisted suicide, yet experts have heavily criticised the polling as deeply flawed. In fact, when asked questions that drill down into the merits of the debate, the percentage of those in support drops dramatically.

The Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said the government had no plans to launch an inquiry into current laws preventing euthanasia.

He added: “Personally, I have grave doubts about the ability of legislation to be watertight when it comes to the potential for abuse.”

Palliative care doctors letter in full:

Sir, Today the BMA launches a consultation surveying its members’ views on physician-assisted dying. Challenging individual cases have prompted calls to change the law. However, the existing law ensures that doctors continue to uphold their duty of care, avoiding the inherent risks to sick and vulnerable patients that physician-assisted suicide would bring. The NHS is already overloaded, struggling to serve an expanding ageing population without adequate funding for palliative care.

In other jurisdictions with legalised assisted dying, the picture is disturbing, and the World Medical Association recently reiterated its opposition to doctor-assisted dying. Canada’s federal government has consulted on expanding assisted dying laws to the mentally ill, “mature minors” and individuals whose deaths are not imminent. Meanwhile, Canadian hospices are facing pressure to provide assisted death or risk losing their funding. We understand that the medical profession cannot and should not dictate the law but are concerned that the public’s trust in doctors and medical institutions will lead our patients to equate assisted dying with good end-of-life care, as in Canada. We hope that the BMA will continue to oppose the involvement of doctors and that assisted dying will not become a medical intervention in the UK.

Prof Bill Noble, Consultant in Palliative Care; Dr Jim Gilbert, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Dr David Randall, Registrar in Renal Medicine; Dr Alexander Cary GP Trainee; Dr Dominic Whitehouse, Consultant Physician in Palliative and Respiratory Medicine; Prof Rob George, Medical Director and Consultant in Palliative Care; Dr Alison Brooks, GP; Dr Aiofe Gleeson, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Dr Robert Twycross, Emeritus Clinical Reader in Palliative Medicine; Prof David Oliver, Professor of Palliative Medicine; Prof Simon Noble, Professor of Palliative Medicine; Prof Irene Tuffrey-Wijne, Professor of Intellectual Disability and Palliative Care; Dr Amy Proffitt, Deputy Medical Director; Dr Mark Taubert, Consultant and Lead Clinician in Palliative Medicine; Dr Marina Malthouse, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Dr Craig Gannon, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Dr Rosemary Anthony-Pillai, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Dr Kevin O’Kane, Consultant in Acute Internal Medicine; Dr Melody Redman, Junior Doctor in Paediatrics; Dr Fiona McCormick, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Dr Simon Anderson, Consultant Gastroenterologist; Dr Angela Campbell, Consultant Geriatrician; Dr Luigi Camporata, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine; Dr Peter Diem, Consultant Geriatrician; Dr Terrence Gibson, Consultant in Acute Internal Medicine; Dr Philip Howard, Consultant Gastroenterologist; Dr Mustafa Kadam, Registrar in Acute Internal and Stroke Medicine; Dr Iain Kennedy, GP; Dr Taryn Pile, Consultant Nephrologist; Dr Sanna Khawaja, Registrar in internal Medicine; Dr Ranjababu Kulasegaram, Consultant in HIV Medicine; Dr Roshan Navin, Consultant in Acute Internal Medicine; Dr Aysha Nazir, Registrar in Emergency Medicine; Dr Laura O’Sullivan, Registrar in Acute Internal and Intensive Care; Dr Farica Patel, Registrar in Acute Internal Medicine; Dr Richard Rawlins, Retired Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon; Dr Shabaz Roshan, Consultant Geriatrician; Dr Nadia Short, Consultant in Acute Internal Medicine; Dr Fiona Stephen, Trainee in Emergency Medicine; Dr Duncan Brown, Medical Director and Consultant in Palliative Care; Dr Ollie Minton, Clinical Lead in Palliative Medicine; Dr Claud Regnard, Honorary Consultant in Palliative Care Medicine; Dr Chris Farnham, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Baroness Sheila Hollins, Retired Consultant Psychiatrist; Dr Ellie Smith, Consultant in Palliative Medicine and Clinical Lead for Palliative Care; Dr Sarah Cox Consultant and Lead Clinician in Palliative Medicine; Dr Idris Baker, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Dr Seamus Coyle, Community Consultant in Palliative Care; Dr David Brooks, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Prof Scott Murray, Emeritus Professor of Primary Palliative Care; Dr Juliet Spiller, Consultant in Palliative Medicine; Prof Marie Fallon, Professor of Palliative Medicine

New Zealand to vote in referendum on euthanasia

New Zealand is to become the first country in the world to put euthanasia to a binding public vote after lawmakers passed a bill laying out what the country’s assisted suicide regime would be.

The bill passed narrowly on Wednesday by 69 votes to 51, ending years of parliamentary debate on the topic.

The drastic change in law will come into effect if the people of New Zealand approve it in a referendum at the country’s 2020 election.

The proposed change in law goes much further than the Oregon style assisted suicide legislation that has been proposed and rejected by the UK Parliament. Most recently in 2015, MPs voted by 330 votes to 118 to reject a bill that proposed to introduce an Oregon style law to the UK.

There has been very vocal opposition to the proposed change in law.

A record 39,000 public submissions were made while lawmakers were considering the matter, with 90% of submitters opposed to it.

As MPs voted, campaigners carried placards stating “assist us to live not die” and “euthanasia is not the solution” outside parliament.

Claire Freeman, who was involved in a car accident causing her to become tetraplegic, has spoken out forcefully against the assisted suicide.

In a short documentary, for #DefendNZ, Claire revealed that after attempting suicide more than once health professionals “encouraged [her] to explore assisted suicide”.

During her recuperation in hospital, Claire realised “being offered assisted suicide instead of suicide support was disturbing.”

She added: “I had been told ‘if I was in your position, with your disability, I wouldn’t want to live’ by the very health professionals who are there to help suicide survivors… I realised my biggest problem had been my mindset and a lack of proper support.”

Wendi Wicks, a long-time advocate for the rights of disabled people, told the Guardian that the proposed law is dangerous for everyone in New Zealand; particularly the disabled.

Outlining her concerns she said: “[The bill] doesn’t protect against coercion, competency or consent abuses. It doesn’t allow for a cooling-down period like Oregon or Victoria have. Safeguards are vague and lax. Worse still, there’s a sense that a certain level of wrongful death is acceptable.

She added: “It’s to be hoped that the population at large can do a sound job, but that depends on the quality and range of information they get. MPs had a huge range of sound, factual information. But judging from their voting record, many clearly disregarded heaps of it.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has publicly stated her support for euthanasia reform and reluctantly voted for the referendum saying it was the only way of advancing the legislation.

Following her pledge to make widespread changes to New Zealand’s abortion law, a parliamentary bill has been introduced which will in practice permit abortion up to birth for babies prenatally diagnosed with the Down’s syndrome. It has prompted widespread concern from parents about the harmful impact this Bill will have on people with Down’s syndrome.

Two previous attempts to allow for legal assisted suicide in New Zealand have failed to get through Parliament.