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GPs to be consulted on support for legalisation of assisted dying

Exclusive The RCGP is to consult its members on whether the college should support a parliamentary bill that would change the law on assisted dying for terminally ill patients.

The move could lead to the college becoming the first medical college or body to support assisted dying.

The consultation, to be announced tomorrow, follows a letter to The Times newspaper today from a dozen senior doctors supporting a change in the law over the issue.

The letter, from 12 former leaders of medical royal colleges was prompted by the Assisted Dying Bill tabled in the House of Lords by Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former Lord Chancellor.

The bill aims to give a small group of very advanced terminally ill patients whose suffering is not adequately alleviated by palliative care the choice to legally end their lives if they wish to.

Although no medical royal colleges or bodies currently support assisted dying - with many opposed to it - the RCGP says it will now ask its members whether it should support a change in the law and that it will release full details tomorrow.

The RCGP last consulted members on assisted dying in 2005 and the move comes after an article discussing assisted dying was written by RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada in the British Journal of General Practice last December.

Professor Gerada said that doctors had a right to hold a view on whether they should help someone to die but argued that medical royal colleges should adopt a neutral stance on the issue and let society decide.

The letter published today from doctors including Sir Terence English, past president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Dame Margaret Turner Warwick, former president of the Royal College of Physicians and Dame Fiona Caldicott, past president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists says: ‘We believe that there is a strong case for the legalisation of assisted dying for terminally ill mentally competent adults’.

’We hope that the debate among legislators and the public will focus on the central issue. This is whether a small group of very advanced terminally ill patients should be allowed this degree of control over the end of their life.’

Readers' comments (4)

  • this will lead to terminally ill people who want to live till the natural end of their life being pressured on such things as grounds of 'cost'. And doctors' prognoses are often wrong. This undermines trust between doctors and patients also.

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  • all gp's or just those who can afford the rcgp?

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  • Legalising TOP- did it encouraged more woman to do it? Or given a right to choose safe and professional care as part of patient choice? We have heard about many people asking for a right to a dignify death so not to travel abroad often much earlie than they want! Did we hear about people being forced to die early when they didn't want?

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  • I support the assisted dying bill. I have been a patient in the NHS over several operations and serious illnesses. You need to be aware that if you become a patient you will go without fluids for long periods of time, your pain and vomiting will not be controlled, the food will be tasteless carbohydrate which you may or may not be given assistance to eat, you may get bedsores, if you get put on a bed pan you may not be taken off it for a prolonged period of time. All this I have experienced or witnessed directly while a patient. One of my patients was even told to go to a toilet that had three large bedpans of faeces in it. Six months ago I had a one in 20 chance of ovarian cancer. I made the appropriate financial arrangements for my family and had carers lined up for my cat. My plan was to survive the cancer long enough to get the kids of to university in Sept and then get on with the three trips to Zurich. They do a very decent package deal for £13,000. Worth every penny. I think the option of assisted dying in this country would help people stick it out longer because they know that once their suffering becomes too much they can end it. My poor
    aunt Sally, suffered terribly with complications from rheumatoid arthritis. She was a very religious woman. Several months before her death she was crying because she thought that God had forsaken her. I had no comfort to give her, being an atheist. I think that people who object to assisted dying do so for a variety of reasons but one important one is that they believe that the medical profession will solve all illness and suffering. As a profession we know that is is not true. I think individuals should have the choice of the time, place and method of their death.

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