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Doctors reject assisted suicide

more: Medical Opinion, Medical Opinion, Medical Opinion/Medical Opinion, Legislation, Medical Opinion/Legislation

10th December 2014

The Royal College of Physicians rejects assisted suicide following a survey of all fellows and members, maintaining the healthcare profession's clear commitment not to give up on the patients

Doctors reject assisted suicide

The Royal College of Physicians has become the latest professional medical body to reiterate its opposition to legal change which would fundamentally alter the doctor-patient relationship, and undermine the provision of high-quality care and support. This latest reaffirmation also further isolates calls by well-placed supporters of physician-assisted suicide which colleagues continue to agree is bad for their patients and bad for medicine as a whole.

The survey showed pleasing consistency with the findings of a similar 2006 study (conducted at the time of the Joffe Bill). The questions and answers were as follows (quoted text in italics):

1. Do you support a change in the law to permit assisted suicide by the terminally ill with the assistance of doctors?

Yes 2168 32.3%

Yes, but not by doctors 684 10.2%

No 3858 57.5%

2. We ask you to consider the following statement: '(We) believe that with improvements in palliative care, good clinical care can be provided within existing legislation, and that patients can die with dignity. A change in legislation is not needed.' Do you agree? (The question asked in 2006)

Yes 4179 62.5%

No 2507 37.5%

Answers from 2006 survey for comparison:

Yes 3741 73.2%

No 1327 26.0%

3. What should the College's position be on 'assisted dying' as defined in the RCP's consultation document.

In favour 1649 24.6%

Opposed 2972 44.4%

Neutral/no stance 2076 31.0%

4. Regardless of your support or opposition to change, in the event of legislation receiving royal assent, would you personally be prepared to participate actively in 'assisted dying' as defined in the RCP's consultation document.

In favour 1432 21.4%

Opposed 3904 58.4%

Neutral 1345 20.1%

A similar question was asked in 2006, and regardless of support for change, the percentages of those prepared to personally participate actively in a process to enable a patient to terminate their own life were very similar to the above results and were as follows:

In favour 18.9%

Opposed 59.4%

Uncertain 19.4%

Among the most interesting of the findings is the near identical proportion of RCP members who would not be willing to assist their patients' suicides indicating clearly the view that helping people to kill themselves is incompatible with medical practice.

Dr Andrew Goddard, RCP registrar and senior officer with responsibility for professional matters, said:

These results give us a basis for our position on assisted dying and for responding to proposed legislation, now and in the coming years. Whilst there is still a majority against a change in the law, we recognise there has been a shift in opinion over the past eight years, and will continue to engage with members and fellows on this issue.

Read the RCP press release

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