Medical body threatened with legal action over assisted suicide poll

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has been threatened with legal action over its controversial poll of its members on assisted suicide.

Last month, the RCP announced it would ask its 35,000 members what they think the college’s stance should be on assisted suicide, and if they would actively participate in killing a patient should it become legal.

Historically, the College has been opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide, but unless 60 per cent of its members say it should continue to oppose legalisation, it will switch to a neutral stance.


RCP has courted controversy over the decision, and has now been sent a lawyer’s letter by RCP fellow and former chair of its ethics committee John Saunders.

It follows a letter published in The Times, in which Saunders and 22 other senior doctors and academics outlined their concerns about the “procedural irregularities”.

The doctors contended “that it is wrong to demand a supra-majority simply to maintain the status quo”.

They added they are worried the move “represents a deliberate attempt by a minority on the RCP council to drop the college’s opposition to assisted suicide even if the majority of the membership vote to maintain it”.

Most opposed

The letter acknowledged “a variety of opinions” on the issue, but stated that the last poll carried out by the college “found that 58 per cent of members opposed a change in the law”.

Meanwhile, “under 25 per cent” believed the RCP should campaign in favour of new legislation.

“We call on the royal college to retain the more orthodox, justifiable and democratic approach that it has used in the past when interpreting this poll.”


Crossbench peer and former Paralympic gold medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson also recently hit out at the survey, saying it risks bringing the RCP into disrepute.

She said: “Only a small minority of members want to see an assisted suicide law.

“They know there is no chance of the college supporting their project but neutrality is, for them, the next best thing because it suggests (misleadingly) that there is a shift in medical opinion.”

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