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4 in 5 people with advanced or terminal illness think doctors’ organisations should be neutral on or support assisted dying

Dignity in Dying

4 min read Member content

YouGov figures released as Royal College of GPs launches survey of its members on topic.


New figures released today (Tuesday 5 November 2019) by YouGov reveal that four in five (83%) people with an advanced or terminal illness think that organisations representing doctors should have either a neutral or supportive stance on assisted dying. This comes as the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) launches a survey of its 53,000 members on the issue - the first since 2013.

The YouGov survey of over 500 adults diagnosed with cancer, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, multiple system atrophy or progressive supranuclear palsy also found that more than four in five (85%) said that their trust in doctors would either stay the same or increase under a change in the law to allow assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, whereby two doctors would independently assess whether the person is of sound mind and terminally ill with 6 months or less to live.

The RCGP, which last consulted its members on the issue in 2013 and is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying, announced in June 2019 that it would ask its members for their views again. This came months after the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) dropped its longstanding opposition in favour of neutrality following its own member poll. The British Medical Association (BMA), which is currently opposed to assisted dying, is also due to survey its 160,000 members in the coming months for the first time in its history.

The largest ever public poll on assisted dying, conducted by Populus in April 2019, found that 84% of the British public supports a change in the law to allow assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults.

Professor Sir Sam Everington, Barrister, MBBS, MRCGP, OBE, a GP in Tower Hamlets, said:

“Over 30 years as a GP I have seen a small number of terminally ill patients suffer despite medical staff doing all they can. Some of these patients, of sound mind, would choose to end their suffering but are prevented from doing so under our current laws on assisted dying. I understand that there are doctors who would find it impossible to help these patients if the option was available and I respect their views. But I would equally argue that this is about patient choice, and I know that there are brave and honourable doctors who would be willing to help those who want this option.

“I believe that terminally ill people should be at the very heart of the debate on assisted dying, and as GPs we have a duty to listen to their views. Continuing to actively oppose a change in the law not only puts the RCGP at odds with dying patients, but it also leaves us lagging behind other medical organisations, such as the Royal College of Physicians. We need to adopt a new position that allows GPs to engage constructively in the assisted dying debate, represents the range of views held and puts patients front and centre.”

Anita Brown, 48, who has terminal small cell bladder cancer, said:

“I want the option of an assisted death in case my suffering becomes unbearable at the end of my life. I am shocked that medical organisations are campaigning to oppose something that the majority of their patients support. I appreciate that doctors have a range of views on this issue and they should be heard, but ultimately their patients’ wishes should come first. I believe the only fair and representative position for doctors’ organisations to have on assisted dying is a neutral one.”

The full results of the YouGov survey of people with advanced and terminal illness will be published later this month.

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