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Dignity in Dying exposes network of anti-choice activists trying to silence doctor survey

Dignity in Dying

4 min read Partner content

Dignity in Dying has today published a new report on the network of anti-choice activists that is working together to attempt to silence the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) over its recent survey on assisted dying.

In March 2019, it was announced that a judicial review was to be brought against the RCP, challenging the decision to commit to a neutral position unless a supermajority of 60% was reached, and attempting to prevent the results of the survey from being published.

Research by Dignity in Dying, the leading organisation campaigning for a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, has shown that those behind the legal challenge to the RCP have a long history of campaigning for pro-life causes and connections to American pro-life lobbyists.

In particular, Dignity in Dying’s report demonstrates that:

  •          Of the four doctors taking the legal case, one is a longstanding member of the Christian Medical Fellowship who has written extensively for its journal, one is president and another is a council member of the Catholic Medical Association UK.
  •          The ‘Alliance Defending Freedom’, a Christian conservative organisation that funds legal cases for pro-life causes across the world is expanding into the UK and has “welcomed the case”.
  •          Campaign adverts by the doctors’ group ‘Our Duty of Care’ have been funded by the organisation Care Not Killing, a long-established network of mostly pro-life and religious organisations established to oppose assisted dying.
  •          The judicial review of the RCP’s decision is being led by the solicitor Paul Conrathe, who has represented a number of pro-life causes and has been a director of several evangelical Christian organisations.

Dignity in Dying’s Chief Executive Sarah Wootton said:

“While it is completely legitimate to organise and build alliances with those who share your views, transparency on who is involved is critical. In this case a network of anti-choice activists with a long history of campaigning against assisted dying and with links to American anti-choice lobbyists is behind this challenge to the RCP. They appear at first glance to be a grassroots group of doctors with evidence-based concerns, but digging deeper, their opposition appears to have links to faith-based, anti-choice agendas. This group is not representative of the majority of doctors or of the public.

“The involvement, or at least support of an American organisation that campaigns to limit personal freedoms – whether on reproductive rights for women, or equal marriage for LGBT people – across the globe is particularly concerning.

“I urge those who are looking to develop evidence-based policy to hold firm in their commitment. Similarly, I hope that media organisations will continue to scrutinise those who claim to speak for the medical profession and ascertain their true motivations for opposing a change in the law on assisted dying.”

Sarah Jessiman, 52, a former saleswoman from Rugby, was diagnosed with aggressive stage 3 breast cancer in 2011 which has since spread to her spine, ribs and liver. In March of this year, Sarah was told she has only months left to live. Sarah said:

“I often find myself howling in agony and have already experienced pain that is almost to the limit of my endurance. I have a fantastic team of consultants and nurses around me who are doing all they can but they are not able to guarantee my death would be free from this horrendous pain. I want my life to end in a dignified way, openly and honestly - the way I have lived my life. But because of the ban on assisted dying I fear I may have to take the law into my own hands or face the possibility of dying in unbearable pain and suffering.

“I am appalled that a vocal minority of doctors who ardently oppose assisted dying, some of whom appear to be religiously motivated, are frustrating attempts to have an open and honest debate about this issue. The role of a doctor is to act in the best interests of their patients, 80% of whom support dying people like me being given a true say over how and when we die.”