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Royal College of Physicians does not support a law change on euthanasia

May 2020

President of Royal College of Physicians, Prof. Andrew Goddard
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Campaigners have welcomed a statement from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) which confirmed it does not support changing the law to allow assisted dying.

In March 2019, the RCP adopted a position of ‘neutrality’ on the issue of whether UK law should change to allow assisted dying.

This came after a survey of its members and fellows, which found 43.4 percent said the RCP should oppose such a law, and 31.6 percent said it should support a change.

The RCP therefore adopted a position of neutrality on the issue, but has since faced growing pressure from its own members and external bodies to clarify that neutrality does not equate to tacit support.

In a statement published on its website, the RCP said, ‘Neutrality was defined as neither supporting nor opposing a change in the law, to try to represent the breadth of views within its membership.

‘Regrettably, this position has been interpreted by some as suggesting that the College is either indifferent to legal change or is supportive of a change in the law.

‘So there can be no doubt, the RCP clarifies that it does not support a change in the law to permit assisted dying at the present time.’

The statement was welcomed by Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, who said, ‘This extensive and unusually frank statement from the UK’s oldest medical organisation rightly puts a sword to the lie that RCP supports a change in the law – it does not.

‘Interestingly, the College, in their statement, decided to highlight that just one in four doctors (25 percent) would be willing to take part in an assisted suicide if the laws were changed.

‘The current laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia exist to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed, or disabled from feeling obliged to end their lives. This is not an imagined risk.’

His comments were echoed by Dr Mark Pickering, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, who said, ‘Predictably, the RCP’s move to unqualified neutrality was immediately hijacked by assisted dying campaigners, who referred to the RCP “dropping opposition” to legal change.’

He added, ‘We are very grateful to the College for recognising the confusion that has been sown as a result of its initial decision. We are also grateful to them for clarifying that the RCP does not support a change in the law to permit assisted dying at the present time.’