GPs to be asked whether assisted dying law should change

Author: Mark Gould
GPs to be asked whether assisted dying law should change

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) will consult its 53,000 members as to what its stance should be on whether there should be a change in the law on assisted dying. The College currently opposes any change in the law.

When RCGP’s members were last consulted in 2013, a majority said the College should not change its stance. However, only a small fraction of doctors responded to oppose advocating any change in the law. Now the College’s governing council has decided that another consultation should take place.

Assisted dying is illegal in the UK. It is legally available under various conditions in five European countries including Belgium and Switzerland, as well as in Canada and six US states.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: "Assisted dying is an incredibly emotive issue that polarises opinions.

"It has been nearly six years since we asked our members as to whether we should support a change in the law on assisted dying – since then, it is possible that views within our membership have shifted.

"As such, RCGP council has decided that the time is right to conduct this consultation, and we will be issuing further details of how we will do this in due course."

In July last year the supreme court ruled that a court order no longer has to be requested to withdraw life support from patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state if doctors and relatives agree that it is in their best interests.

In March, the Royal College of Physicians dropped its opposition to changing the law on assisted dying and took a neutral stance on the issue after a poll of almost 7,000 doctors did not return a majority view.

More than 90% of the UK’s population believe assisted dying should be legal for people with terminal illnesses, a poll of 2,500 respondents suggested this year. Doctors found guilty of helping someone to die in the UK can be jailed for up to 14 years.