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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Doctors challenge Royal College over assisted suicide poll

A group of doctors have launched a High Court challenge against the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) over what they say is a ‘radical change’ to its position on assisted suicide.

The College announced in January that it would poll its 35,000 members and fellows on whether or not there should be a change in the law to permit doctor-assisted suicide.

The survey, which closed at 5pm on Friday 1st March, 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 14th 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 per cent 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 per cent voted against assisted suicide legislation.

However, under the terms of this most recent poll, even if 59 per cent 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 per cent 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.

Nola Leach, chief executive of Christian Action Research & Education (CARE), 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,” Ms Leach added.

“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.”

Picture: File photo dated 15/08/14 of a nurse with a stethoscope. (Lynne Cameron/PA).