The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has confirmed that it does not support assisted suicide or euthanasia.
The RCP has long opposed the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the UK but changed its position to ‘neutral’ after conducting a poll in 2019. However, the RCP has now clarified that ‘it does not support a change in the law to permit assisted dying’, and stated that ‘the majority of doctors would be unwilling to participate actively in assisted dying if the law were changed to permit it’.
In last year’s poll, 43.4 per cent of respondents said that the RCP should be opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying, while 31.6 per cent said the RCP should support a change in the law, and 25 per cent said the RCP should be neutral. Based on these results, RCP Council adopted a position of neutrality on 21st March 2019.
‘Neutrality was defined as neither supporting nor opposing a change in the law, to try to represent the breadth of views within its membership,’ the RCP said in a recently-released statement. ‘Regrettably, this position has been interpreted by some as suggesting that the College is either indifferent to legal change or is supportive of a change in the law.
‘So that there can be no doubt, the RCP clarifies that it does not support a change in the law to permit assisted dying at the present time.’
The statement by the RCP mirrors the position of the Royal College of GPs, which earlier this year, following a poll of its 53,000 members, restated their strong opposition to changing the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia.
The RCP’s confirmation that it does not support assisted suicide or euthanasia has been welcomed by many groups.
Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing said: “This extensive and unusually frank statement from the UK’s oldest medical organisation, rightly puts a sword to the lie that RCP supports a change in the law – it does not.
“Interestingly, the College, in their statement, decided to highlight that just one in four doctors (25 per cent) would be willing to take part in an assisted suicide if the laws were changed.”
Dr Macdonald pointed out that the current laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia exist to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed or disabled from feeling obliged to end their lives.
“This is not an imagined risk,” he warned, noting that in places like Oregon and Washington, a majority of those ending their lives cite the fear of being a burden on their families and carers as a reason for the decision to end their life.
“There are other dangers too,” he added. “In Canada, which only legalised assisted suicide and euthanasia in 2016 for the terminally ill, the Quebec Superior Court struck down this requirement last year, opening up euthanasia for those with chronic conditions and mental health problems.”
Dr Macdonald cited the case of Alan Nichols, a former school taker who although struggling with depression was not terminally ill. After being admitted into Chilliwack General Hospital, last summer he was euthanised by lethal injection.
He also pointed out that Roger Foley, from Ontario, who suffers from a neurological disease, recorded hospital staff offering him a ‘medically assisted death’, despite his repeated statements that he did not want to die and wanted to return to his home.
“No wonder not a single doctors’ group or major disability rights organisation supports changing the law, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Geriatric Society, the World Medical Association and the Association for Palliative Medicine,” said Dr Macdonald. “Or why Parliamentarians across the UK repeatedly reject attempts to introduce assisted suicide and euthanasia, more than ten times since 2003 out of concern for public safety, including in 2015 when the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted against any change in the law by 330 votes to 118. The current laws prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia protect vulnerable people and do not need changing.”
Meanwhile, Robert Clarke, deputy director of faith-based legal advocacy organisation ADF International, said people can see now, more than ever, how important it is to care for the most vulnerable in society.
“The Royal College of Physicians, an organisation of doctors who have chosen to dedicate their work to saving lives, should stay true to this calling,” he said.
“By clarifying its stance on euthanasia, it has taken a step in the right direction and pushed back against those who have sought to misrepresent and instrumentalise the 2019 vote to push for a change in UK law.
“The detrimental effects of euthanasia on individuals and society have become very clear in countries that have already gone down this path,” he pointed out. “There is nothing progressive about a society that refuses to care for its most vulnerable members. Given what the RCP represents, it would have been disappointing to see the organisation abandon its established opposition to euthanasia – especially when the change is promoted by a small minority with political motives.”
Picture: File photo dated 03/10/14 of a ward at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Liverpool. (Peter Byrne/PA).