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RCGP members vote to maintain opposition to assisted dying

The RCGP will continue its opposition to a change in law on assisted dying following a consultation of its members, it has announced.

The college has been opposed to a change in law to allow assisted dying, but it ran a consultation of members last summer to gauge whether it should take a neutral stance.

The decision comes after a Pulse GP survey last year showed that more than two-thirds of GPs were supportive of a change in stance. However, 77% of the 1,700 RCGP members responding to its consultation said the college should maintain its opposition.

The latest debate was sparked by Lord Charles Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, tabled last May, as well as an opinion piece from former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada in the British Journal of General Practice last year, in which she suggested GPs should ‘let society decide’.

The BMA continues to oppose legalising assisted dying and recently announced its opposition to a parliamentary bill on legalising assisted death introduced in Scotland.

The college said that the responses to the consultation had focused on: the detrimental effect it would have on the doctor-patient relationship; the risk to the most vulnerable groups in society; the possibility that patients may be in some way coerced into the decision to die; the shift of focus away from investing in palliative care; and would 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’.

RCGP chair 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.’

In an interview with Pulse last autumn, Lord Falconer made a plea to the RCGP to take a neutral stance on the issue.

Readers' comments (15)

  • Good.

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  • Appalled at this outcome. Travel to Netherlands and see how it works in practice. We must stop sentencing people to die by hospice if they want other options.

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  • After the Harold Shipman case, I remember an elderly woman with a simple chest infection saying to me: "You won't do a Harold Shipman on me, will you?" She was serious. Some people perceive assisted dying as killing. Legalising it will not change this perception.

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  • Study the operation of countries that use a form of euthanasia and determine factually whether abuses actually do take place and ways of preventing them. The number of people killed on roads each year is frightful and yet, quite rightly, we don't ban the car.

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  • Perhaps in future all RCGP policy will reflect the majority views of it's members rather than those of a few Academics divorced from the coal-face of primary care?

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  • What does Mark Feldman mean by 'sentencing people to die by hospice? We provide excellent palliative care in patient's homes when they choose that option. It takes a good local palliative care team, a well trained District nursing team and GPs willing to visit their patients regularly. The problem is the post ocde lottery that does not provide that option to everyone. But rather, let us not condemn our elderly, frail and dying patients to a position where they feel they have to die to stop being burdensome to the rest of us. That is what happens in Holland. This issue has been looked repeatedly and in great depth including by parliamentary committees taking evidence from a wide range of people and has included trips to Holland and Oregon . Every single time, when the evidence is examined, the decisions come down against assited dying and euthanasia because it puts the most vulnerable in our society at risk. That is the evidence. It's just not what some people want to hear.

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  • It is entirely unsurprising that the two surveys (Pulse and RCGP) give opposite results. Neither is statistically respectable. There is far too much self-selection of responders. If you want to do a survey with samples of 1.4% and 3.5% (Pulse and RCGP, respectively) then the sample has to be chosen with very great care. What would we think of the result of a parliamentary election where the turnout was just a few percent?

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  • Having watched my father die a slow and lingering death from a brain tumour which, before finally killing him, subjected him to several strokes which robbed him of his movement and, ultimately, his dignity (This is not a criticism of any care he received - they were all magnificent) but here was a man who, through his life as a pharmacist, had helped lots of people in the community, was destined to spend his last few months having his backside wiped and his dinner fed to him because he could not do it himself. I was forced to stand by and watch my hero degenerate and suffer daily bouts of weeping due to his circumstance.
    This has altered my view of assisted dying. If he had been a dog and we had allowed him to linger in this manner, we would have been in court, and rightly so.
    What does it say about society, and the keepers of the nations health in particular, if we treat a dog with more love, kindness and humanity (sic) than we do a family pet.
    I understand there will be those who are squeamish about taking that step but that comes with the job.
    Life at any price is often at too high a cost

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  • Sorry - in my haste the line should read
    "What does it say about society if we treat a dog with more love, kindness and humanity (sic) than we do our own kith & kin"

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  • there is a diifrence between a dog and human being, Is the dog given a choice? We see the suffering human being , I am not sure how many has been asked do they want to die even in the situation the person is totaly dependant on others,If the answer is yes then I am all for it, but how to get an answer from an unconcious alive person,that is what bugs me

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