GPs Remain Opposed to Assisted Dying

Tim Locke

February 21, 2020

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) is maintaining its opposition to assisted dying after a ballot.

The College polled its 49,539 members on the subject, its first consultation on the issue since 2013.

However, only 6674 (13.47%) responded to the questionnaire from the survey company Savanta ComRes. It found:

  • 47% of respondents opposed a change in the law

  • 40% of respondents supported a law change within a regulatory framework with safeguards

  • 11% of respondents advocated a neutral position

  • 2% abstained

Assisting death is illegal in all four UK nations. The RCGP Council agreed that the survey results did not support a position change.

The Royal College of Physicians has a neutral stance on the topic, while the British Medical Association (BMA) is carrying out its own member consultation.

Controversial Topic

In a news release, 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 survey results have been helpful in guiding College Council as to what our position should be.

"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."

The RCGP Council said there will be no further consultation for at least 5 years unless there are "significant developments on the issue".

'Cruel, Outdated Laws'

The group Campaign for Dignity in Dying said its polling suggested that 84% of the public support the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill adults.

It issued a news release interpreting the RCGP results as "GP opposition to assisted dying plummets".

It's Chief Executive Sarah Wootton, said: "This poll reveals an emphatic shift in views from 2013, with over half of GPs voting for the RCGP to drop its opposition to assisted dying. For the College to wilfully ignore these results raises serious questions about its credibility as a representative body. Why bother asking members for their views if they are then completely disregarded? This regressive decision also abandons patients, the vast majority of whom want to see a change in our cruel, outdated assisted dying laws."

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