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Royal College of Physicians adopts neutral policy on assisted suicide

(CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters)

Doctors who opposed the move warned that sick and vulnerable people are now 'at risk'

The professional body for doctors in the UK has dropped its traditional opposition to assisted suicide, despite a poll that found a majority of its members remain opposed to the practice.

The Royal College of Physicians declared it has adopted a policy of neutrality, although a majority of doctors said they were against assisted suicide.

In a March 21 statement published on the college’s website, Andrew Goddard, college president, said: “Adopting a neutral position will mean that we can reflect the differing opinions among our membership. Neutral means the RCP neither supports nor opposes a change in the law.”

A poll of members conducted between February 5 and March 1 found that 31.6 per cent were in favour of the college adopting a pro-assisted suicide policy, while 43.4 per cent were opposed and 25 per cent were neutral.

A question asking doctors if they would also like to see British law changed to allow assisted suicide was answered affirmatively by 40.5 per cent, while 49.1 per cent opposed a law change and 10.4 per cent were undecided.

The college decided in advance that it would adopt a neutral policy unless a supra-majority of more than 60 per cent of doctors voted for or against assisted suicide.

Four doctors, including two Catholics, had applied to Britain’s High Court for a judicial review of the way the poll was conducted but were told March 21 that their legal challenge would not be accepted.

In a March 21 statement sent by email to Catholic News Service, the four said: “We were disappointed not to receive permission today to challenge the decision of the college in the High Court on technical grounds.”

“Sick and vulnerable people are at risk as a result of college neutrality on assisted suicide,” they added. “The profession has not moved on this issue, so neither should the college.”