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UK doctors head for vote on assisted suicide

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  • January 28, 2019

Britain’s Royal College of Physicians has adopted a neutral position on assisted suicide until they hear back from British doctors on whether they favour changing United Kingdom laws against doctors helping their patients commit suicide.

The UK doctors’ body said it would remain neutral unless more than two-thirds of doctors voted either in favour or against assisted suicide in an e-mail poll the RCP plans to conduct in February. 

It’s the second time in five years the Royal College of Physicians has polled its members on assisted suicide. In 2014, 58.4 per cent of doctors said they would not “participate actively” in assisted dying were it made legal. The next year the British Parliament voted down proposals to change the law on assisted dying.

The neutral position parallels closely the Canadian Medical Association’s position just before Canada legalized assisted suicide in 2016.

“We are very much taking information and evidence about what’s happening in Canada and using that in the UK,” Care Not Killing spokesperson Alistair Thompson told The Catholic Register by phone from England. 

“We’re very disappointed that they (the RCP) have made a sort of announcement that they’re going to go neutral, which seems to be driven by two people who are both members and are involved with Dignity In Dying.”

The UK organization Dignity In Dying has ties to Canada’s Dying With Dignity. Dying With Dignity Canada said the British doctors’ decision to poll the profession on assisted dying is part of an international movement.

“There is a growing movement among liberal-democratic societies toward recognizing medical assistance in dying for what it is: a human right,” said Dying With Dignity CEO Shanaaz Gokool in an e-mailed statement for The Catholic Register.

“I don’t feel there is a tide,” said Thompson. “There is still only a tiny minority of countries in the world that have legalized assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

Speaking for the UK’s Christian Medical Fellowship, two different disability rights organizations and a broad coalition of churches who together make up Care Not Killing, Thompson isn’t opposed to the RCP polling its members.

“I hope they will see that the majority of their members do not want either the right or the pressure of being able to decide whether to kill their patients,” he said. “I hope that what they will see is that their members do not support this, once and for all, so they actually concentrate on how do we care for an aging population.”

Opponents to euthanasia are in leadership positions in British medicine, according to Thompson.

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