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UK doctors file legal challenge against Royal College of Physicians euthanasia poll

Summary

  • Four UK doctors challenge Royal College for introducing “unfair” poll
  • The poll could result in the College dropping its longstanding opposition to euthanasia

LONDON (6 March 2019) – This week, a group of four British doctors filed a legal challenge against the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in relation to a recent poll held by the College on its stance on euthanasia. The group say that the poll is being conducted in a misleading way and is aiming to force the Royal College to abandon its longstanding opposition to euthanasia.

“A fair and just society care for its most vulnerable. The Royal College of Physicians, an organisation of doctors who have chosen to dedicate their work to saving lives, should stay true to this calling. By changing its stance on euthanasia to ‘neutral’ it could pave the way for a change in UK law. The detrimental effects of this on individuals and society have become very clear in countries that have already gone down this path. There is nothing progressive about a society that refuses to care for its most vulnerable members. This means providing excellent medical treatment and palliative care rather than euthanasia. Given what the RCP represents, it would be disappointing to see the organisation abandon its established opposition to euthanasia-especially when the change is promoted by a small minority with political motives,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.

Challenge to the poll

The RCP announced that it would conduct a poll of its members on euthanasia in January. This attracted great controversy by requiring a 60% ‘super-majority’ in favour of any outcome or else the College would change its stance to ‘neutral’. The four doctors have said this move is unlawful and have launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the legal challenge. The results of the poll are due to be released later this month.

The RCP, which represents more than 35,000 doctors, has long been formally opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia. In 2014, 57.6% of its membership opposed a change in the law would legalise assisted suicide. However, its latest poll aims to remove the College’s formal opposition to such a legislative change.

The group of doctors have argued that use of a ‘super-majority’ vote on such issues is without precedent in professional organisations in the UK. They have said that it appears to be a tactical move to give a strong boost to the campaign to change the law on assisted suicide. The largest euthanasia lobby group in the UK has previously identified the opposition of medical bodies as a key obstacle to changing to law. Two well-known patrons of this organisation, and active campaigners for legalising euthanasia, are on the RCP Council – the internal body driving the RCP poll. The four doctors are seeking to challenge the poll on the basis that it is “unfair, irrational, and a breach of legitimate expectation.”

Euthanasia laws and the threat they pose to society

The introduction of euthanasia laws in other European countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, have seen the number of the euthanasia deaths increase every year. In Belgium, these laws were amended in 2014 to also include children.

“The slippery slope is on full public display in those countries where euthanasia has been legalised. For example, according to the most recent government report, more than six people per day are killed in this way in Belgium, and that may yet be the tip of the iceberg. The RCP poll has the potential to se the UK on a trajectory that, at best, implicitly tells its most vulnerable that their lives are not worth living,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International.

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