hands held together, one elderly person and the other a carer

Senior doctor quits Royal College over new assisted suicide stance

8th Apr 2019 - James Mildred

The chairman of the ethics committee at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has resigned over the RCP’s new official stance of ‘neutral’ on assisted suicide.

Last month the College controversially dropped its historic opposition to assisted suicide and adopted the new position following a highly controversial poll of doctor’s views.  

Now, Professor Andrew Weale, emeritus professor of political theory and public policy at University College London has quit, saying the decision by the RCP was “not coherent” and “unfair”. Two other members of the ethics committee have also walked out.  

RCP go for least favoured option

The Royal College has historically been opposed to assisted suicide, like every other major medical body. In 2014, it polled its members on the issue and a clear majority wanted the College to remain opposed and so the College retained its historic position of being against assisted suicide. But in this most recent poll, the College framed the survey in a very irregular way.

Unlike in previous polls, the RCP’s council had already decided in advance and without consulting members that they would go neutral unless any option was backed by a super-majority of 60%. At the time, the former chair of the RCP’s ethics committee, John Saunders called it a ‘sham poll’.

In the survey, doctors were asked what the College’s official position on assisted suicide should be. In total, most responders wanted the College to remain opposed (43.4%), less than a third (31.6%) thought the College should be in favour and a mere one in four (25%) thought the College should go neutral.

Despite the lack of support for adopting a neutral position, that is precisely what the College then did.

RCP assisted suicide poll challenged by doctors

After the poll was launched, 1,800 doctors signed an open letter to the RCP President complaining about the irregular framing of the poll and urging him to take it down. A small group of doctors has also launched legal proceedings against the RCP and the group has raised £24,000 through an online fundraising campaign.

Dr David Randall who is leading the legal challenge to the College’s new position said: “These resignations from the RCP's ethics committee add to the concern that the college has rushed into a position of neutrality on assisted dying without proper process, and without fully considering the implications of neutrality.”

Find out more

Read the full story in the Sunday Telegraph here (£)

Read more on CARE’s position on assisted suicide

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