Royal College of Physicians drops opposition to assisted suicide

28 March 2019

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

The professional body for doctors in the United Kingdom dropped its traditional opposition to assisted suicide, despite a poll that found a majority of its members remain opposed to the practice.

The Royal College of Physicians declared it has adopted a policy of neutrality, although a majority of doctors said they were against assisted suicide.

In a statement published on the college’s website, Andrew Goddard, college president, said: “Adopting a neutral position will mean that we can reflect the differing opinions among our membership. Neutral means the RCP neither supports nor opposes a change in the law.”

A poll of members conducted between Feb. 5 and March 1 found that 31.6 percent were in favour of the college adopting a pro-assisted suicide policy, while 43.4 percent were opposed and 25 percent were neutral.

A question asking doctors if they would also like to see British law changed to allow assisted suicide was answered affirmatively by 40.5 percent, while 49.1 percent opposed a law change and 10.4 percent were undecided.

In Canada, medical assistance in dying in legal under strict conditions.

In the United Kingdom, the Royal College of Physicians decided in advance that it would adopt a neutral policy unless a supra-majority of more than 60 percent of doctors voted for or against assisted suicide.

Four doctors, including two Catholics, had applied to Britain’s High Court for a judicial review of the way the poll was conducted but were told March 21 that their legal challenge would not be accepted.

In a statement sent by e-mail to Catholic News Service, the four said: “We were disappointed not to receive permission today to challenge the decision of the college in the High Court on technical grounds.”

“Sick and vulnerable people are at risk as a result of college neutrality on assisted suicide,” they added. “The profession has not moved on this issue, so neither should the college.”