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ss triple helix - Spring 2020,  Assisted suicide

Assisted suicide

Review by Gordon Macdonald CEO of the Care Not Killing Alliance
Pressures continue across the British Isles
Pressure continued for the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the UK, with a very public campaign and recently calling for a Government inquiry into the law on assisting suicide. [1] There have been two debates in Parliament calling for an inquiry into the current law and David Gauke, the outgoing Justice Secretary of the Teresa May Government tried to launch a Government inquiry. Fortunately, that was over-ruled by Downing Street and recently the current Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, has ruled out launching such an inquiry. [2]

Various medical bodies have been polling their memberships about whether they should change their positions on assisted suicide and euthanasia. This started with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) from January to March last year. The RCP adopted a position of neutrality after a highly controversial process requiring a 60 per cent supermajority to maintain the then status quo of opposition to a change in the law. That decision is still subject to the ongoing threat of legal action after the High Court ruled in October that it could be challenged under charity law. [3]

Since then, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has polled its members on 'assisted dying'. Unlike the RCP, the RCGP consultation did not assume that doctors would be involved in the process of assisting suicide or that the patient need have a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live. The outcome of the consultation was that 47 per cent of GPs who responded opted for the College to remain opposed to assisted suicide, 40 per cent for the College to support assisted suicide, and only eleven per cent preferring the RCGP to be neutral in the issue. At the end of February, the RCGP Council announced that the College would remain opposed to the legalisation of 'assisted dying'. [4]

The BMA in February completed a poll of its members on 'physicial-assisted dying' - which it defined to include both assisted suicide and euthanasia. The result will be published before the BMA Annual Representatives Meeting in Edinburgh at the end of June, which will decide on the BMA's position. [5]

Elsewhere, in January the Parliament in the Isle of Man (Tynwald) recently rejected an attempt to move towards legalising assisted suicide, [6] and in February the Government of Jersey announced that it is setting up a Citizens Jury to consider the issue and report back to the States Assembly later in the year. In Scotland, a group of MSPs are planning to launch a consultation on legalising assisted suicide in the late summer or autumn, with a view to bringing a Bill forward after the next election in 2021.

The pressures for legalising assisted suicide remain strong, and we must remain active and resolute in maintaining our opposition to such changes.

1. Westminster Hall debate: Majority of speakers back inquiry into assisted dying laws. Politics Home. 23 January 2020.

2. Lord Chancellor rejects Government review into assisted suicide law amid 'grave concerns'. Right to Life. 14 February 2020.

3. Randall D. Conflicted, but not neutral. CMF Blogs. 4 November 2019.

4. Pollock J. RCGP remains opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia. CMF Blogs. 28 February 2020.

5 . Physician-assisted dying survey. BMA. 5 March 2020

6. Mildred J. Isle of Man Assisted Suicide Push Fails. Care. 23 January 2020.

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