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NMC issues a warning about assisted suicide

more: Articles, Opinion, Articles/Opinion

28th July 2009

The Nursing and Midwifery Council warns nurses not to be misled by RCN neutrality stance

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the body responsible for regulating nurses and midwives, has issued a warning to nurses not to be misled, by the Royal College of Nursing's shift in its declared attitude on assisted suicide, into thinking that they may encourage or in any way assist patients who may indicate a wish to end their own lives.

In a statement issued on 27 July the Council states that "it is the NMC's statutory duty to remind nurses and midwives that they must practice within their code of professional conduct and within the context of national laws. The law on assisted suicide has not changed".

Commenting on the RCN's decision, the NMC's Chief Executive & Registrar, Kathy George, said:

"Despite the RCN's move to a neutral position on assisted suicide, nurses and midwives are personally accountable for their actions and must act lawfully at all times. This is clearly stated in their code of professional conduct. Assisting the suicide of a patient is against the law".

The NMC's intervention will embarrass the RCN Council, which decided on 24 July to shift its position on the legalisation of assisted suicide from opposition to neutrality. The RCN's decision, which was based on opinions expressed by less than one per cent of its membership, has drawn criticism from a number of sources. Baroness Emerton, a former nurse and a Fellow of the RCN, described it as "astonishing" and "reminiscent of some of the worst features of trade union activity in the 1960s and 1970s".

Others have expressed concern at statements by the RCN's General Secretary, Peter Carter, that the shift in the College's stance would enable nurses to "engage in dialogue with patients" on assisted suicide and at reports that the RCN in Scotland planned to provide an input to MSP Margo MacDonald's development of her proposals for euthanasia north of the border.

A spokesman for Care Not Killing said:

"Whatever view one takes about the desirability of legalising assistance with suicide, no one can condone a shift in nursing policy that is based on the views of 0.3% of the College's membership. Nurses who do not wish to see this being done in their name should not hesitate to write to the RCN General Secretary and make their views known".

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