If you don’t like the result of the vote, keep having votes until you get the result you want
No, I’m not referring to Brexit, but to a poll of doctors planned by the Royal College of Physicians.
The RCP is planning to poll its 35,000 members to ask whether ‘they would help a terminally ill patient to die and whether the law should be changed to allow assisted dying.’ A similar vote four years ago showed a clear majority of doctors against such a change and there is no evidence that the position is different today. But in an extraordinary move the RCP is saying that unless a supra-majority of 60% of its members vote either for or against the change it will declare its position on the matter to be ‘neutral’. Of course, in this case ‘neutral’ is really a euphemism for ‘supportive’ and demanding a supra-majority like this is nothing but gerrymandering the vote.
Another euphemism is to speak of ‘assisted dying’ in this way. In the UK we already have assisted dying – it is called palliative care. What the RCP proposal is really seeking is legitimacy for assisted suicide; but campaigners for euthanasia have subtly dropped the s-word in order make their goals feel more kindly.
According to The Times, ‘Doctors are in open revolt against their professional body amid claims that the Royal College of Physicians has been captured by lobbyists for assisted dying.’ And, ‘A former official has threatened legal action over a new vote on the issue that he called a “sham poll”.’
That the RCP’s actions should arouse such a strong response is unsurprising: most doctors want to care for their patients, not kill them.
All of us should care about this because once the door to euthanasia is opened the slippery slope only runs one way. As ‘atheist and unashamed liberal’ Ian Birrell writes, in those nations where euthanasia has been legalised the consequences are becoming increasingly alarming:
Belgium, for example, now permits euthanasia for children. It has allowed at least three minors – two of whom were children under 12 – to receive lethal injections since the law was changed five years ago. It also allowed a pair of deaf adult twins who feared turning blind to kill themselves. And it is available for those with ‘unbearable’ psychiatric pain. If we accept people have the right to death as relief from intense suffering, then this makes ethical sense, since there should not then be distinction between physical and mental agony. Yet such distress is harder to detect and more open to subjective interpretation.
Rather than heading down the road that Belgium and the Netherlands have started on, in the UK we should work to ensure that true assisted dying is available: that is effective pain relief and dignified treatment for the terminally ill. We should resist anything that is a step towards euthanasia.
If you are a doctor or medical student please consider adding your signature to this open letter to the RCP calling on it to postpone the poll.