GPs will be one of the groups most affected by any change in the law and it is right for the college to hold a position. It is also the right time to make this decision.
It has been almost 10 years since we developed our collective stance on assisted dying and in that time, we have welcomed thousands of new members - so views may have changed. In this emotive matter, everyone will hold their personal opinion.
When surveyed, the overwhelming majority of respondents (77% as individuals and 20 out of 28 bodies responding collectively) felt that we should retain the position we have held since 2005; that with good palliative care, any change in the assisted dying law is unnecessary.
There were arguments put forward for the college to alter its position to 'neutral', or 'in favour of' a change in the law, but most respondents were opposed, citing reasons that included:
- It would be detrimental to the doctor/patient relationship.
- It would put the most vulnerable groups in society at risk.
- It would instigate a 'slippery slope' - it would only be a matter of time before assisted dying was extended to those who could not consent.
- It would be impossible to implement without eliminating the possibility that patients may be in some way coerced into the decision to die.
- It would shift the focus away from investing in palliative care and treating terminal illnesses.
- The possibility of a wrong decision being made was too high to take the risk.
The college will now concentrate on supporting GPs to provide excellent care to patients in the final days of their lives. Last year we appointed Dr Peter Nightingale as clinical lead for end-of-life care. He is doing a great job leading work in partnership with Marie Curie Cancer Care to improve primary care provision for patients nearing the end of life.
I'm pleased we can now carry on this vital work with no doubt hanging over the college's stance.
- Dr Baker is a GP in Lincoln