Royal College of GPs maintains opposition to assisted dying law change

A change in the law on assisted dying remains opposed by the Royal College of GPs (RCGPs), despite more than half of consulted members calling for a different stance.

Just under half (47%) of those surveyed said the College should not change its position, while 40% said it should support a law change, with caveats, and 11% said the College should become neutral.

Assisted dying is currently illegal in the UK.

Campaigners have been calling for a change in the law which would allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to control the timing and manner of their death.

Groups called the College’s move a “regressive decision” which was “seriously flawed”.

The RCGP Council, which was guided by the survey results, said it will not review its position for at least five years – unless there are “significant developments”.

Professor Martin Marshall, RCGP chairman, said: “As the UK’s largest medical Royal College it is important that we engage in debate and listen to what our members have to say on wide-ranging issues affecting GPs and their patients.

“Assisted dying is a controversial topic and this was reflected in the responses to our consultation.

“However, the highest proportion of respondents said that the College should continue to oppose a change in the law on assisted dying.

“This was the largest consultation on an issue of public policy that the College has conducted both in terms of response rate and volume of respondents.

“The survey results have been helpful in guiding College Council as to what our position should be.

“The role of the College now is to ensure that patients receive the best possible palliative and end of life care, and to this end we are working with Marie Curie and others to support this.”

The RCGPs consultation was sent to 49,539 of its members, of which 6,674 responded.

Some 11% said the RCGPs should be neutral, while 2% abstained.

In 2013, when the matter was last consulted on, more than three quarters (76%) of respondents were opposed to a position change, and just 5% wanted to see a law change.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity In Dying, said: “This poll reveals an emphatic shift in views from 2013, with over half of GPs voting for the RCGP to drop its opposition to assisted dying.

“For the college to wilfully ignore these results raises serious questions about its credibility as a representative body.

“Why bother asking members for their views if they are then completely disregarded?

“This regressive decision also abandons patients, the vast majority of whom want to see a change in our cruel, outdated assisted dying laws.”

Humanists UK’s director of public affairs and policy, Richy Thompson, said: “It is vital that those who are of sound mind and terminally ill or incurably suffering are able to end their lives in a time and manner of their choosing, as this is the only way to ensure their dignity is respected.

“This appalling decision will mean that such people will continue to be let down by the RCGP even though a majority of their members wanted change.

“Questions must now be asked about the College’s handling of this vitally important issue.”