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Royal College of Physicians reaffirms position against assisted dying

28 November 2014

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has reported that a majority of its fellows and members who responded to a recent survey do not support a change in the law on assisted dying.

The survey asked fellows and members four questions on the issue, covering their own personal opinion and whether they believed the RCP as an organisation should have a position.

The survey was sent to 21,674 fellows and members in the UK, including retired members, and the response rate was around 30%.

Of those who answered the question, 63% agreed that, with improvements in palliative care patients can die with dignity, and a change in legislation is not needed. However, 38% thought that a change in the law is needed – an increase from 26% when a similar survey was carried out in 2006.

However, while 32% of respondents did support a change in the law to permit assisted suicide, another 10% said they would only support a change in the law if doctors were not involved in assisting dying.

58% of respondents said that they did not support a change in the law.

When asked what the RCP's position on assisted dying should be, 25% said it should be in favour, 44% said it should be opposed while 31% thought that the College should take a neutral stance or have no official stance.

Dr Andrew Goddard, RCP registrar and senior officer with responsibility for professional matters, said: "These results give us a basis for our position on assisted dying and for responding to proposed legislation, now and in the coming years. Whilst there is still a majority against a change in the law, we recognise there has been a shift in opinion over the past eight years, and will continue to engage with members and fellows on this issue."

Earlier this week the British Medical Association (BMA) announced that it will look at the impact of physician-assisted dying on the doctor-patient relationship and how dying patients are cared for, as part of a major new research project examining end of life care.

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