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GPs to be consulted on whether assisted dying law should change

GPs across the UK will be asked whether the law on assisted dying should be changed, after the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) announced it would consult its 53,000 members on the issue.

The RCGP, the membership organisation representing 53,000 family doctors in the UK, said the College’s governing Council had decided to re-approach the issue with its members. Its move was welcomed by Humanists UK, which believes that individuals who are of sound mind but who are terminally ill or incurably suffering should have a right to decide to end their life at a time and in a manner of their choosing.

Humanists UK actively campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying and is currently supporting Paul Lamb in his legal case. Paul, who is paralysed from the neck down, wants to be able to end his life at the time and in the manner of his choosing if his condition worsens. He argues that the current law – which prohibits any assistance under threat of up to 14 years’ imprisonment – breaches his human rights.

Earlier this year, a new poll showed more than 90% of the UK public now support assisted dying for certain groups of people. Another poll showed that more than half of GPs would want to be prescribed drugs to help them die if they were terminally ill and suffering unbearably, according to The Telegraph.

RCGP Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said, ‘Assisted dying is an incredibly emotive issue that polarises opinions. It has been nearly six years since we asked our members as to whether we should support a change in the law on assisted dying – since then, it is possible that views within our membership have shifted.’

The College last consulted its members on the issue in 2013. The result, announced in February 2014, was that the College should not change its stance. As such, its current position is that it is opposed to any change in the law on assisted dying. The RCGP will announce the format of its consultation in due course.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: ‘With record levels of public support for assisted dying, more countries internationally moving to more humane laws, and growing pressure on Parliament to give people dignity in their end of life choices, it is welcome news that the RCGP has announced this consultation with its members.

‘We hope GPs will vote with compassion and dignity and consider the human rights of people who are terminally ill and incurably suffering. For any GP who strives to deliver truly patient-centred care, it is crucial that they acknowledge the individual rights of people who are suffering, and recognise their right to decide to end their life at a time and in a manner of their choosing. We also ask the RCGP to ensure that as part of its consultation it includes scope to ask its members about their position on people who are incurably suffering – and not just for those who are terminally ill.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about Paul Lamb’s case for the right to die.

Find out more about our work on assisted dying.

Humanists UK believes that individuals who are of sound mind but who are terminally ill or incurably suffering should have a right to decide to end their life at a time and in a manner of their choosing. We recognise that any assisted dying law must contain stringent safeguards, but the international evidence from countries where assisted dying is legal shows that safeguards can be effective.

Humanists UK advances free thinking and promotes humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Its work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through its ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, it strives to create a fair and equal society for all.

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