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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.’