The Royal College of Physicians currently opposes a change in the law to allow assisted suicide in the UK. On 14 January, the College announced that it will be surveying its 35,000 members on whether to change its official position on the issue.
The survey will ask members and fellows what position they think the College should take, and give three options: in favour, opposed and neutral. The College has said it will automatically adopt a neutral position, dropping opposition to assisted suicide, unless a 60% supra-majority vote for the College to remain opposed or switch to being in favour. This follows a council meeting, during which it was decided to adopt this new default position of neutrality, despite the fact the wider fellowship and membership were not involved in this decision.
The highly irregular and unusual way of framing this poll – requiring a 60% majority simply to maintain the historic position of being opposed to assisted suicide – is both undemocratic and unfair. The poll has been designed to make it inevitable that the RCP will go neutral, even if a majority are opposed.
We feel that ‘neutrality’ is a misnomer: if the College drops its opposition to assisted suicide they are giving tacit support to allowing doctors to give lethal drugs to help their patients kill themselves. When the RCP conducted its last poll of members, 58% indicated they were opposed to a change in the law. We call on the College to postpone the current poll until it can decide how to interpret the results in a fairer way.
Further reading:- https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/rcp-poll-its-members-assisted-dying- https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/27/assisted-dying-poll-is-a-sham- https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/f957d076-1e86-11e9-bcfa-eb6ef536f22f- https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-6638611/DOMINIC-LAWSON-fight-misguided-drive-force-assisted-suicide.html- https://cmfblog.org.uk/2019/01/16/why-the-royal-college-of-physicians-will-go-neutral-on-assisted-suicide-and-why-that-matters/- https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/assisted-dying-why-rcp-should-be-opposed
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Indeed, at a recent council meeting, a new default position of neutral was adopted prior to the announcement of the new poll, without any involvement of the wider membership. Sadly it seems the council may well be overly influenced by the presence of several prominent campaigners for assisted suicide.
We acknowledge that members may hold different views on this complicated and sensitive issue. But by going neutral, the College is sending a clear signal of support for a law change. Given that the most recent poll of members showed a majority were opposed to assisted suicide, and only a small proportion supported it, the approach the College is taking to a matter of such importance is extraordinary and deeply troubling.
Furthermore, neutrality in this instance is illusory – a myth. By leaning towards a ‘neutral’ position, the College is effectively stating that it is not formally opposed to doctors prescribing lethal drugs so patients can end their lives. In simple terms, neutrality is a misnomer and nothing more than tacit support for assisted suicide.
We are calling on the College to abandon this survey and instead, if it so desires, to conduct polling in the fair and democratic way it has approached previous polls on this issue.