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GPs remain opposed to assisted dying

Some 77 per cent of RCGP members said the College should oppose any change in the law to allow assisted dying

Mark Gould

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is to remain opposed to any change in the law on assisted dying, following one of the most comprehensive consultations of its members. Some 77 per cent of more than 1,700 members who responded to an RCGP consultation on proposals to change the law said they were opposed to any changes.

In addition, of the 28 RCGP bodies that took part in the consultation, 20 reported a majority view against a change in the law.

Although a minority of respondents put forward cases to shift the College’s collective position to ‘neutral’ or ‘in favour’ of a change in law on assisted dying, most respondents were against a change in the law for a range of reasons, including that a change in the legislation would:

  • be detrimental to the doctor-patient relationship
  • put the most vulnerable groups in society at risk
  • be impossible to implement without eliminating the possibility that patients may be in some way coerced into the decision to die
  • shift the focus away from investing in palliative care and treatments for terminal illnesses
  • instigate a ‘slippery slope’ whereby it would only be a matter of time before assisted dying was extended to those who could not consent due to reasons of incapacity and the severely disabled.

In addition, some respondents thought that the possibility of a wrong decision being made was too high to take the risk. The GP-patient relationship, with GPs often attending patients in the final days and hours of their lives, means that GPs would be one of the professional groups most affected by any change in the law on assisted dying.

The decision to consult with members on this issue was made at the RCGP’s governing Council meeting in February 2013 to acknowledge that some members’ views might have changed and to take into account that many new members had joined the College since 2005, when the position was last debated.

The consultation was open from 22 May 2013 until 9 October 2013. College members responded either as individuals, or through one of its devolved councils, local faculties, or via a College committee or group. The consultation was conducted through a range of methods, including debates at local meetings, online polls and individual correspondence. Today’s Council debate on the issue ended with a resolution to “maintain the College’s position of opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying”.

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker, said: "This was one of the most comprehensive consultations the College has ever undertaken and the quality of the responses on this extremely important issue has been very high. GPs will continue, as they have always done, to provide excellent care to patients in the final days and hours of their lives."

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