Assisted dying survey 2019

Produced by:

The RCP is polling its fellows and members on whether or not there should be a change in the law to permit assisted dying. An email was sent to all UK members on 5 February 2019.

This survey closed at 5pm on 1 March 2019. The results were announced on 21 March.

The RCP last polled its fellows and members on this issue in 2014. The questions asked about their personal opinion and, for the first time, whether they believed the RCP as an organisation should take a position.

The survey included the exact wording of the question RCP asked in 2006, so that the results could be directly compared to track changes in opinion.

In May 2018, the RCP Council agreed to repeat the survey in 2019. The RCP is frequently asked for its stance on this high profile issue, and our stance is cited in legal cases and parliamentary debate. We therefore need to be able to provide an up-to-date, informed response based on fellows’ and members’ views.

What to do if you haven't received an email

We are aware that some fellows and members haven’t received an email asking them to respond. This is because they have previously indicated that:

  • They do not want to be contacted by us, or
  • They do not want to be contacted by us via email, or
  • They do not want to be involved in any RCP activities.

If this doesn’t apply to you, please check your spam folder.

While this is an important issue and many of these fellows and members want to respond to the survey, GDPR and other legislation means we cannot send the survey email to them.

We have also included instructions on how to access the poll in the latest edition of Commentary, due for delivery on Friday 15 February.

If you have any queries please contact policy@rcplondon.ac.uk

Further reading

Ahead of the poll, fellows and members may want to read the following:

The RCP position

In the 2014 poll, a majority of respondents did not personally support a change in the law. But there was no majority either way on the question of what the RCP position should be.

The Council has resolved that, following this new poll, the RCP will adopt a neutral position until 60% of respondents say the RCP should be in favour of or opposed to a change in the law. ‘Neutral’ means the RCP neither supports nor opposes a change in the law. By remaining neutral, the RCP can reflect the differing views of its fellows and members in discussions with government and others.

Due to this decision, and following feedback from fellows and members, we have slightly altered the questions. The new questions are similar enough to the ones we asked previously that we will be able to track change in opinion over time if it exists, but the most important thing is to know what fellows and members think now.

The law

The Suicide Act 1961 and the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 make it an offence to encourage or assist the suicide of another person. There is no specific prohibition of assisting a suicide in Scottish law, but anyone doing so could be charged with murder or culpable homicide.

The policy for prosecutors in respect of cases of encouraging or assisting suicide, issued by the director of public prosecutions, states that a prosecution is more likely to be required if, "the suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer [whether for payment or not], or as a person in authority, such as a prison officer, and the victim was in his or her care."

Definition of assisted dying

The RCP defines ‘assisted dying’ as:

The supply by a doctor of a lethal dose of drugs to a patient who is terminally ill, meets certain criteria that will be defined by law, and requests those drugs in order that they might be used by the person concerned to end their life.

The criteria a patient would have to meet would be defined by the law, and we cannot predict the content of any legislation. Considering past bills, it is likely that two doctors would be required to satisfy themselves that the person making the request

  • was terminally ill (defined as having an incurable and progressive condition as a result of which death is reasonably expected within 6 months)
  • had the capacity to make the decision to end their life
  • had the capability to end their own life
  • had been fully informed of their palliative care options
  • had a clear and settled intention to end their life which had been reached voluntarily, on an informed basis and without coercion or duress.

The legislation would probably also include a conscientious objection clause for all healthcare professionals. For more information, you can read the Assisted Dying Bill that was considered by Parliament in 2016-17.

The questions

  1. What should the RCP’s position be on whether or not there should be a change in the law to permit assisted dying?
    1. In favour
    2. Opposed
    3. Neutral
  2. Do you support a change in the law to permit assisted dying?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Undecided
  3. Regardless of your support or opposition to change, if the law was changed to permit assisted dying, would you be prepared to participate actively?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Don't know
  4. Is there anything else you want to say about this issue?