A survey of the fellows and members of the Royal College of Physicians has shown that a majority of respondents still do not support a change in the law on assisted dying. This broadly reflects the overarching result of the RCP’s 2006 survey, although the number taking this position has fallen. The RCP recognises that this is a difficult and personal issue for doctors and society, and therefore RCP Council felt it was important to consult fellows and members.
The current UK legal position is that assisting another person’s suicide is illegal.
The 2014 survey asked fellows and members four questions on the issue, covering their own personal opinion, and for the first time, a separate question on whether they believed the RCP as an organisation should have a position. The survey included the exact wording of the question RCP first asked in 2006, so that the results could be directly compared to track changes in opinion.
The questions and answers are as follows:
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%)
Although there is still a majority opposing a change in the law on assisted dying, there has been a 10.7% decrease in the percentage of members and fellows holding this view since the survey was last conducted in 2006.
3. What should the College’s position be on ‘assisted dying’ as defined in the RCP’s consultation document: www.rcplondon.ac.uk/assisted-dying-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: www.rcplondon.ac.uk/assisted-dying-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%
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.’
Dignity in Dying responds to Royal College of Physicians survey on assisted dying
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) have re-affirmed their opposition to assisted dying today after a recent survey of fellows and members.
The survey found that 42.5% of physicians supported some form of assisted dying, while 57.5% were opposed. The survey also asked about the position that the College should currently take on assisted dying; 44.4% wanted to maintain its current opposition, 24.6% wanted the college to be in favour and 31% wanted neutrality.
Sir Graeme Catto, Chair of Dignity in Dying, former President of the GMC and fellow of the RCP, said:
“I commend the RCP for undertaking this survey, but it is perplexing that they draw the conclusion from its results that they should remain opposed to change. Only a minority of those surveyed supported a position of continued opposition by the College, with a combined majority in favour of a position of support or neutrality. It would be helpful in light of this if the RCP clarified its continued opposition to change.
“Nevertheless, for the majority of the public who support change, there is a lot of encouragement to be taken from this survey. First, the RCP has acknowledged that opinion amongst its members to a change in the law is shifting, with 42.5% now supporting some form of a change in the law. This is a dramatic swing from its last survey in 2006. Secondly, a fifth of its members indicated a willingness to assist a terminally ill patient to die, within safeguards and if the law were to change. This would be more than enough doctors to make a law work safely for the relatively small, but significant, number of dying patients who wish to control the time and manner of their death.
“The RCP is still behind the public on this issue, but they are catching up. An overwhelming majority of the British public support assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent people. After a final warning from the Supreme Court, Parliament has begun constructively working towards a safe law with Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill which allows patients to have choice and control over their own death. Currently people are already taking drastic decisions to have this control, whether by travelling abroad or taking their own life alone.
“The survey shows there are a range of opinions on assisted dying and this should be reflected in a stance of neutrality. It should be noted that the Assisted Dying Bill includes a conscientious objection clause for any doctors who would not want to be involved in the process.
“It is telling that the group most affected by the current law, that of patients, were not involved in the RCP’s survey. This is in stark contrast to the Canadian Medical Association who decided to re-evaluate their stance after directly engaging with patients and hearing what they wanted for their own end of life care.”
Royal College of Physicians
Dignity in Dying