Nurses challenge union’s neutral stance on assisted suicide

The Congress of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has voted against its governing body’s long-standing neutral stance on assisted suicide.

At the union’s annual meeting for members, nurses backed a motion to show support for “the principles of assisted dying” by 276 votes to 197, with 140 abstentions.

The RCN’s formal position, to neither support nor oppose assisted suicide, was adopted by its Council in 2009 and updated and reaffirmed last year. The vote is not binding and the College’s Council would have to approve any change.

‘Ethical burden’

Opposing the controversial motion, one nurse urged the RCN to maintain its neutral stance, stating: “We should be fighting for better end-of-life care, not just in hospices but everywhere where nurses care for people.”

Another member warned that the resolution carried with it an “ethical burden” for those who opposed assisted suicide on conscience grounds.

A number of delegates raised concerns that inequalities in the provision of palliative care might push terminally ill people to seek help from medics to kill themselves if end-of-life protections were abandoned.


Last year, a survey of more than 1,000 doctors revealed that the majority (59 per cent) would not administer lethal drugs if assisted suicide was legalised.

According to, of the 1,088 doctors asked if they would “provide information or have a discussion with a patient” about euthanasia or assisted suicide, 58 per cent agreed, with 31 per cent declining.

The most cited reasons for not wanting to introduce euthanasia or assisted suicide were to “protect vulnerable people from risk of coercion” and because the “focus should be on improving palliative care”.

Also see:

Psychiatrists: ‘Killing the depressed is not the sign of a caring society’

‘Why I shredded my Dignitas membership’

Times readers slam columnist Parris for pressuring elderly and infirm to kill themselves

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