Care Not Killing welcomes RCP poll result showing doctors firmly opposed to mercy killing bill

06 May 2006

The Care Not Killing Alliance has welcomed the result of the RCP (Royal College of Physicians) poll showing that 73% of its members are opposed to any change in the law to allow physician assisted suicide or euthanasia. The question posed by the RCP was that used in a similar poll conducted by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) last September:

'(We) believe that with improvements in palliative care, good clinical care can be provided within existing legislation and that patients can die with dignity. A change in legislation is not needed .'

CNK chairman Brian Iddon said, 'The vast majority of doctors have been clear throughout regarding their opposition to Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill , and the RCP vote is firmly in line with other surveys of doctors' views. It is particularly significant that 71% of doctors also rejected a change in the law in a second question posed by Lord Joffe himself.'

Lord Joffe's Bill is due for its second reading in the House of Lords this Friday 12 May. He had approached the College with allegations that the question asked had not been fair, so as a last-minute concession to him, the College had polled its members again with his own question.

Lord Joffe's question, which was circulated in a last hour email poll by the College read:

'Do you believe that a change in legislation is necessary for the small number of terminally ill patients for whom palliative care does not meet their needs?'

The Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the British Geriatric Society, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh are firmly opposed to euthanasia. In the last ten days plans to legalise assisted suicide have also been rejected by the British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (BAOMS) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych).

Baroness Ilora Finlay, Professor of Palliative Medicine in Cardiff and a member of the Lords' Select Committee considering the Bill said, 'This poll shows conclusively that doctors who are deeply involved in caring for dying patients are firmly opposed to this Bill. Specialists in palliative medicine, those closest to patients who are dying, are 95% opposed. They realize that the bill leaves a door wide open to abuse.'

Dr John Wiles, chairman of the Association for Palliative Medicine for Great Britain and Ireland, a member of the Care Not Killing Alliance, added, 'It is no surprise that these results are reflected in the views of our own 800-strong membership. Specialists in palliative medicine, more than any other group, know what can be achieved by good palliative care and are most strongly opposed to the bill.'

Last autumn, in a poll of over 2,000 doctors run by www.doctors.net.uk, 69% voted against a change in the law. This latest vote is yet further confirmation that the majority of doctors are opposed to a change in the law. A pro-euthanasia edition of the British Medical Journal last September provoked letters which were 95% opposed to euthanasia.

It is significant that the RCP, which took a neutral stand in giving evidence to a Lords' Select committee in August 2004, has now changed its official position after consulting grassroots members. The College had attracted strong criticism when it spoke on behalf of the Royal Academy of Medical Colleges without consulting those colleges or indeed its own membership.

A much-publicised vote at the BMA annual conference in June 2005 adopted a neutral position on assisted dying. But this happened by a 93 to 82 vote majority, at a barely quorate meeting in the closing hours of conference, when less than half of delegates were present. The BMA vote has attracted severe criticism from grassroots members as being unrepresentative of mainstream medical opinion, and is expected to be overturned at the next annual meeting in June this year.

CNK campaign director, Dr Peter Saunders, said, 'The RCP vote leaves the BMA out on a limb from the Royal Colleges, mainstream medical opinion and the international medical community. A small number of activists on the ethics committee, who have been attempting to distort medical opinion, are now hearing mainstream doctors speak.'

'Some people are welcoming euthanasia because they have been frightened by stories from right-to-die advocates, when what they really need is to be properly informed and given hope. The vast majority of calls for euthanasia are really calls for good medical care and symptom relief. Requests for euthanasia and assisted suicide are extremely rare when a patient's physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs are properly met. Our priority must therefore be to make the best possible whole person care more widely available.'

In a poll published in the Sunday Telegraph earlier this week, 65 per cent of people agreed that if the proposed law change went ahead, 'vulnerable people could feel under pressure to opt for suicide'. 72 per cent of people agreed that 'doctors and other healthcare workers with ethical objections might feel under pressure to comply' 75 per cent of people agreed that 'people with treatable illness such as depression might opt prematurely for suicide'.