The Royal College of Physicians is locked in a bitter row with its members over its position on assisted dying.
The professional body’s plans to conduct a fresh poll of doctors and fellows on the issue has provoked accusations it is pandering to lobbyists in favour of assisted suicide.
The college has always opposed allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients kill themselves, but said it required a ‘super majority’ on the contentious issue. In the most recent poll in 2014, 58 per cent of its members said they would not participate in assisted dying.
According to the rules, unless there is a 60 per cent majority for or against, the body will adopt a neutral position – which critics fear could amount to ‘tacit support for assisted suicide’.
The forthcoming poll has been criticised by some RCP members who believe the requirement to achieve a supermajority leaves the door open to pander to euthanasia campaigners
College president Andrew Goddard said it was essential to base the College’s stance on an up-to-date poll of the members
A group of academics and doctors have publicly condemned the move in a letter to The Times newspaper. They wrote: ‘We are worried that this move represents a deliberate attempt by the minority [on the college’s governing council] to drop the college’s opposition to assisted suicide even if the majority of the membership vote to maintain it.’
Nigel Biggar, regius professor at Oxford University, called for a ‘more orthodox, justifiable and democratic approach’.
The new poll has been called a ‘sham’, and John Saunders, a former chairman of the college’s ethics committee, has threatened legal action against the new vote. Most medical bodies are against a change in the law.
A free vote in the House of Commons four years ago vetoed moves that would have allowed people with less than six months to live to be prescribed drugs to end their lives with the consent of two doctors and a judge.
College president Andrew Goddard said: ‘The college is frequently asked for its stance on this… so it is essential that we base this on an up-to-date understanding of our members’ and fellows’ views.’