RCGP rejects change in stance on assisted dying

The RCGP is set to remain opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying despite a significant rise in support among members for a new stance.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)

Of 6,674 RCGP members who took part in a survey commissioned by the college, 47% agreed the college should remain opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying.

A total of 40% backed altering the college's stance towards supporting a change in the law 'providing there is a regulatory framework and appropriate safeguarding processes in place', while 11% of respondents backed a neutral stance and 2% abstained.

The results show a significant shift in views among RCGP members since the college last polled doctors on assisted dying - with a 2013 poll finding that 77% of members at the time felt the college should oppose changing in the law on assisted dying.

The results come less than a month after the BMA announced plans to ballot members on its stance on assisted dying for the first time.

Assisted dying

Under current laws assisted dying is illegal throughout the UK. After agreeing that the latest poll findings do not support a change in the college's stance, the RCGP has agreed that unless there are 'significant developments' it will not consult again for at least five years.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall 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 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.'

Neutral stance

However, the charity Dignity in Dying said it could see no reason why the college had not decided to move to a neutral stance on assisted dying given that there was no longer a majority among its members opposed to changing the law.

The charity's chief executive Sarah Wootton said the latest poll showed an 'emphatic shift' in the views of doctors since 2013 - and pointed out that the 'vast majority' of the general public want to see assisted dying laws change.

Polling by Dignity in Dying in 2015 found 82% of respondents supported legalising assisted dying for people who are terminally ill, and polling for another charity last year found even higher support.

Ms Wootton said: 'Parliament should take note of this dramatic shift in medical opinion: the proportion who feel the RCGP should oppose a change in the law has plummeted from 77% to less than half, and those who want the college to support change has increased eight-fold to 40%.

'The Royal College of Physicians’ (RCP) survey last year also demonstrated that there is now a wide spectrum of views in the medical profession towards supporting greater patient choice at the end of life, and the policies of medical organisations need to reflect that.

'The RCP sensibly and pragmatically took the decision to drop their longstanding opposition in favour of neutrality, and there is no reason why the RCGP should not follow suit.'

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

GP consulting room

Nine in ten GPs fear their practice will struggle to cope this winter

Nearly nine in ten GPs fear that their practice will struggle to cope this winter,...

BMA sign

BMA elects new deputy chair of England GP committee and chair of Scottish council

Dr David Wrigley has been elected as new deputy chair of the BMA's GP committee in...

UK money

Almost half of practices say income from private fees has fallen in past year

Almost half of GP practices have seen their income from private and professional...

COVID-19 vaccination centre

BMA raises 'serious concerns' about GP workload and funding for autumn COVID boosters

The BMA has raised 'serious concerns' about the workload implications of this autumn's...


Monkeypox jabs will run out by next week, UKHSA says

The UK is likely to run out of smallpox vaccine stocks which it is using to protect...

NHS sign outside a building

Two Midlands hospitals end partnerships with Babylon

Two NHS trusts have prematurely severed their relationships with digital health provider,...