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RCP: backlash continues

more: Letters, Medical Opinion, Letters/Medical Opinion, Opinion, Letters/Opinion

15th April 2019

Members and fellows publish open letter concerning problems with the RCP's abandonment of opposition to assisted suicide, following resignations from the RCP's own 'ignored' ethics committee

RCP: backlash continues

The decision of the Royal College of Physicians' governing Council to administer its latest membership consultation regarding assisted suicide in accordance with new rules, including the requirement for a two thirds supermajority in favour of a particular stance (later revised down to 60%) to avoid the imposition of 'neutrality', prompted an outcry among members and fellows, with the debacle highlighted in front page splashes.

The College ultimately went neutral, despite opposition remaining the most favoured choice of members and fellows (with neutrality the least favoured choice), and the fallout continues. Four fellows and members launched legal action, and three members of the College's own Ethics Committee (including Chair Albert Weale) resigned.

Professor Weale - emeritus professor of political theory and public policy at University College London - said the Council's learned guidance had been ignored by a Council which had already made up its mind:

'There seems to be no chain of coherent reasoning leading to the council's own position - a situation I regret deeply.'

The Sunday Telegraph reported that

'Professor Weale told the president of the RCP Andrew Goddard that the way the survey had been set up presented "considerable problems of procedural unfairness".

'The RCP's governing council had not given Weale any explanation how they landed on the super-majority scheme, he complained.

'This meant his ethics committee had effectively been wasting its time in providing detailed advice to the council, which seemed to have already made its mind up.

'"There is simply no point in the committee offering reasoned positions if they are ignored by council," he wrote.'

Now, an open letter has been published reiterating just some of the causes for concern to be found in the College's conduct:

SIR - We members and fellows of the Royal College of Physicians London (RCP) are dismayed at the recent conduct of an indicative survey by the college on assisted dying.

The process was heavily influenced by pro-euthanasia advocates on the college council, including members of "Health Care Professionals for Assisted Dying". The survey was conducted in a deliberately skewed fashion, including an unprecedented rule that a 60 per cent "supermajority" of respondents was required to maintain the current RCP policy of not campaigning for changes in legislation on this issue.

Some 43 per cent of respondents voted to maintain the college's current opposition to assisted dying and only 25 per cent were in favour of the "neutral" position now adopted by the RCP council, which would, in fact, allow the RCP to lobby for a change in current legislation - something which it has previously resolutely opposed.

Three members of the RCP ethics committee, including its chairman, Professor Albert Weale, have resigned because of the college's conduct and decision-making in this area. Professor Weale is on record as stating that the RCP has been "incoherent" and "unfair".

We believe that it is not in the duty of a doctor to take part in assisted dying. Indeed, it is contrary to any form of good medical practice and will destroy the traditional, trusting doctor-patient relationship. We hope that the RCP will review the processes which led to the recent poll and its flawed result. The interests of patients - and of doctors - are best served by doctors caring for their patients rather than killing them. We expect the RCP to uphold this principle.

Dr Charlotte Abson, Dr Richard Leach, Dr Amy Profitt, Dr Sanna Khawaja, Dr Liju Ahmed, Dr John Archer, Dr Ellie Asgari, Dr Waqar Aziz, Dr Steven Brennan, Dr Joanna Brown, Dr Angela Campbell, Dr Marwa Daghem, Dr Safa Daghem, Dr Jacob De Wolf, Dr Peter Diem, Dr J E Drake, Dr Paul Edison, Dr Sarah Foot, Dr M D Homer-Ward, Dr Ian Jessiman, Dr M M N Kazozimusoke, Dr Dermot Kearney, Dr Kerry Layne, Dr Katherine Myers, Dr Bill Newsholme, Dr Ademola Olaitan, Dr Matthew Puliyel, Dr David Randall, Dr Claud Regnard, Dr Paul Ryan, Dr Claire Steves, Dr Bnar Talabani, Dr Adrian Treloar, Dr I A F Ugboma, Dr Dominic Whitehouse, Dr John Wiles, Dr Enhui Yong

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