Royal College of Physicians says it does not support change in the law on assisted dying


In a move welcomed by pro-life groups, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has clarified that it does not support the legalisation of assisted dying. 

In a survey of its members carried out last year by the RCP, 43.4% said the organisation should be opposed to a change in the law to allow assisted dying, while nearly a third (31.6%) said it should support a change in the law and a quarter said it should be neutral. 

The results prompted the RCP to adopt a position of neutrality in March last year, a decision that was met with strong criticism. 

In a statement on its website this week, the RCP clarified that it does not support a change to the law.

"Neutrality was defined as neither supporting nor opposing a change in the law, to try to represent the breadth of views within its membership," it said. 

"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 that 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 clarification was welcomed by Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, which is campaigning against any change to the current law on assisted dying. 

"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," he said. 

"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.

"As we have seen in places like Oregon and Washington, a majority of those ending their lives cite the fear of being a burden on their families and carers as a reason for the decision to end their life."

Dr Mark Pickering, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said he was grateful to the college for the clarification and "for recognising the confusion that has been sown as a result of its initial decision".

"Neutrality of medical organisations has been a key strategy of assisted dying campaigners since 2018, as a stepping stone to law change," he said.

"We are grateful to the RCP for clarifying its position in the face of such cynical attempts to neutralise the concerns of the 43.4% of its members who voted to oppose legal change."

The RCP's announcement follows on from the decision of the Royal College of General Practitioners in February to maintain opposition to assisted dying.

The British Medical Association is to make its own announcement in the summer. 

Dr Pickering added: "We very much hope that the British Medical Association will take careful note of both these decisions as it debates its own policy on physician-assisted dying in June."