More than 1,700 members responded to the consultation, which was open from 22 May until 9 October 2013. College members responded either as individuals, or through one of the RCGP devolved councils, one of the RCGP Faculties (local branches), or via a college committee or group.
The consultation was conducted through a range of methods, including debates at local meetings, online polls and individual correspondence. Today’s council debate on the issue ended with a resolution to ‘maintain the college’s position of opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying’.
77% of RCGP members who submitted individual responses to the consultation expressed the opinion that the college should remain opposed to a change in the law to permit assisted dying.
In addition, of the 28 RCGP bodies that took part in the consultation, 20 reported a majority view against a change in the law.
Although a minority of respondents put forward cases to shift the college’s collective position to ‘neutral’ or ‘in favour’ of a change in law on assisted dying, most respondents were against a change in the law for a range of reasons, including that a change in the legislation would:
• be detrimental to the doctor-patient relationship
• put the most vulnerable groups in society at risk
• be impossible to implement without eliminating the possibility that patients may be in some way coerced into the decision to die
• shift the focus away from investing in palliative care and treatments for terminal illnesses
• instigate a ‘slippery slope’ whereby it would only be a matter of time before assisted dying was extended to those who could not consent due to reasons of incapacity and the severely disabled.
In addition, some respondents thought that the possibility of a wrong decision being made was too high to take the risk.
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘This was one of the most comprehensive consultations the college has ever undertaken and the quality of the responses on this extremely important issue has been very high. GPs will continue, as they have always done, to provide excellent care to patients in the final days and hours of their lives.’