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Excessive referrals? Blame the hospitals

The RCGP is coming in for criticism over its neutral stance on the assisted dying controversy

I am writing to express my deep concern over the neutral stance the RCGP has taken on Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. The Bill seeks to legalise suicide in patients with terminal illness who are deemed to be 'suffering unbearably'. If a patient is physically unable to end their own life, then the attending physician will be required to do this for them.

Hence the Bill also seeks to legalise euthanasia. I am strongly opposed to the Bill, as I believe it will have a harmful affect on society.

A Bill legalising euthanasia would change the whole character of medicine, which is aimed at relieving symptoms, treating illness and preserving life. The Hippocratic Oath states clearly: 'I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, neither will I make a suggestion to this effect.' Human life has an intrinsic value and for a doctor to take a patient's life violates all historical and ethical codes.

Section 7 (2) of the Bill introduces a legal obligation for doctors with a conscientious objection to refer a patient requesting assisted dying to another doctor with no such objection. This amounts to forced complicity and presumably means any doctor who fails to comply is committing an offence under the Act.

The RCGP is a well-respected organisation with 21,000 members and as such has considerable impact when it comes to influencing decisions on public policy. But with that influence comes responsibility. I'm aware the RCGP ethics committee has debated this issue. But for a decision that will have such a major impact on the way doctors practise, and society as a whole, I feel the RCGP should conduct an opinion poll of its members before reaching a final conclusion.

Dr Natasha Fraser

Wilmslow, Cheshire

·I agree entirely with Dr Rhona Knight's comments in Soapbox (November 1). I wrote to the RCGP last week with regard to its fence-sitting on this important issue. Its reply was positive in that it has had a number of complaints about its new stance of neutrality. But it was negative in failing to realise the impact of distancing itself from an 'issue which is for society and our lawmakers to decide'.

First, the RCGP represents GPs as a whole and unless it has surveyed us all to find out a 50-50 split on the issue, it has no mandate to present a 'neutral position'. As we have seen, the media have widely interpreted this to mean that GPs are ambivalent about the Joffe Bill's implications.

Second, if it were a matter for society alone and doctors had no role within the proposed legislation, one option could be political distancing. But since the Bill will require doctors to provide the assistance, the RCGP has every duty to take this issue seriously. I, and the great majority of my colleagues, have no desire whatsoever to become involved in the delivery of physician-assisted suicide.

Dr John Wenham

Worsley, Manchester

·Dr Rhona Knight is quite right in expressing concern about the indifference of the RCGP and RCP to the implications of the assisted dying Bill. If society wants technicians to expedite death on the grounds 'we would not treat a dog like that in allowing it to suffer', why not have vets trained to administer lethal injections to people as well?

They are the experts in the field. Or perhaps those moral philosophers who advocate assisted dying and euthanasia should themselves be licensed to carry it out. But for GPs and hospitals doctors alike it would be against all that makes medicine a caring profession rather than a killing one.

Dr Trevor Stammers

London SW19

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