On Monday night (4 March), papers were lodged in a legal challenge in relation to a recent poll by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) over its official position on assisted suicide.
The poll closed at 5pm on Friday, 1 March and the results could see the Royal College drop its historic opposition to assisted suicide.
The doctors behind the judicial review argue that the bizarre way in which the RCP has conducted this latest poll is ‘without precedent’.
This latest survey was announced on 14 January when the College said it was planning to adopt a new, default position of neutral on assisted suicide, unless a supra-majority of 60% are opposed to assisted suicide legislation.
The RCP, which represents 35,000 doctors last voted on this issue in 2014 where a very clear majority of 57.5% voted against assisted suicide legislation.
However, under the terms of this most recent poll, even if 59% voted against assisted suicide legislation the College will still change its official position from opposed to neutral.
According to the doctors behind the legal challenge, requiring a supra-majority of 60% on an issue like this is highly irregular. They are challenging the College on the basis that the new poll is ‘unfair, irrational and a breach of legitimate expectation”.
To fund the legal challenge, they have also launched a £40,000 crowdfunding campaign.
There is considerable unrest among doctors over the way the College has gone about conducting this poll and more than 1,500 doctors have signed an open letter to the President of the Royal College, Andrew Goddard, urging him to withdraw the poll. The results of the poll are due to be released later this month.
CARE’s chief executive, Nola Leach said:
“Once legalised, assisted suicide would put pressure on some of the most vulnerable in our society to end their lives and it would send a chilling message that their lives are not as valuable as those in good health.
“The vast majority of medical bodies are opposed to assisted suicide because of a widespread recognition that such legislation would fundamentally alter the vital doctor/patient relationship.
“If the Royal College was to change its stance to neutral, this would give legislators the green light to change our law, putting many vulnerable people at risk.
“In this instance, we believe neutrality is a myth because doctors cannot be neutral on whether they should be involved in helping patients to end their own lives.
“The UK is already a world leader in the provision of palliative care and while suffering at the end of life can be immensely traumatic, the current blanket ban on assisted suicide is the best way to protect the most vulnerable.
“The evidence from other jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia have been legalised provides a powerful warning to policy makers here that incremental expansion nearly always follows the introduction of assisted suicide laws.
“We believe that there are serious questions to be answered over the way in which the College has conducted this poll, tragically it seems like the College has been unduly influenced by pro-assisted suicide advocates.”
Notes to editors:
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CARE is a well-established mainstream Christian charity providing resources and helping to bring Christian insight and experience to matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives. CARE is represented in the UK Parliaments and Assemblies.
Timeline so far:
14 January 2019: the RCP announced it would poll its members on assisted suicide - https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/rcp-poll-its-members-assisted-dying
5 February 2019: the College emailed members with the survey
1 March 2019 at 5pm: the survey closed - https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/assisted-dying-survey-2019
4 March 2019: papers lodged in a legal case against the RCP
The RCP poll in 2014 compared with 2019
In the 2014 poll, the crucial question determining the RCPs position of opposition to neutrality was:
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%
In the current, 2019 poll they will base their position on the question below; The College has said it will move to a neutral position unless there is a 60% supra-majority for either ‘In favour’ or ‘Opposed’:
1. What should the RCP’s position be on whether or not there should be a change in the law to permit assisted dying?
The doctors behind the legal challenge are:
Dr Dermot Kearney MRCP, Consultant Cardiologist, Gateshead
Dr Kathy Myers FRCP, Retired Consultant in Palliative Medicine, London
Dr Adrian Treloar FRCP, Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist, London
Dr David Randall MRCP, Registrar in Renal Medicine, London
The crowdfunding campaign to raise £40,000 can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/rcp-poll-challenge
More than 1,500 doctors have signed a letter to the President of the RCP calling on him to withdraw the poll: https://care.org.uk/news/latest-news/1500-doctors-oppose-royal-college-physicians-move-neutrality-assisted-suicide
Evidence from Belgium: every two years, the Belgium Federal Commission on the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia publishes latest figures. They are published in French and Dutch but in this piece, the latest reports have been summarised in English: https://www.mercatornet.com/careful/view/euthanasia-in-belgium-updates-on-a-social-experiment/21655
Recent figures from Belgium and Oregon reveal further increases in the number of assisted suicide deaths: https://care.org.uk/news/latest-news/assisted-suicide-deaths-continues-rise-belgium-and-oregon
The last time MPs voted on assisted suicide legislation was in September 2015 where by a huge majority, they voted against the Rob Marris Assisted Dying Bill (No 2): https://care.org.uk/news/latest-news/mps-overwhelmingly-reject-flawed-assisted-suicide-bill