Update: September 2023
The RCGP Council has given the go-ahead for a working group to be set up to ensure that the College is prepared for any potential changes in the law on assisted dying across the UK.
This follows the successful passing of a motion brought by nationally elected Council members Sir Sam Everington and Dr Gail Allsopp.
The focus of the motion was not on the College’s position on assisted dying itself, but to think through the practical implications of any potential legal change in the future.
The important issue of assisted dying and the GP role has been considered carefully by the College and Council in previous years. It was agreed that our position on assisted dying itself would not be brought back to Council until 2025.
RCGP's 2020 decision
RCGP UK Council debate was informed by an all member consultation conducted by Savanta ComRes. The consultation was the largest the College has done of its kind, going to 49,539 members and receiving 6674 responses. The results were that:
|The RCGP should oppose a change in the law on assisted dying||47%||3144|
|The RCGP should support a change in the law on assisted dying, providing there is a regulatory framework and appropriate safeguarding processes in place||40%||2684|
|The RCGP should be neutral on the topic of the law on assisted dying||11%||701|
|I wish to abstain||2%||145|
The second and third questions asked members to elaborate on the reasons for which they opted for that position and on what role, if any, they thought GPs should have in any model of assisted dying.
The purpose of the consultation was to inform the RCGP UK Council on members' opinions on the issue. The membership consultation results were reflected upon by a steering group of GPs and the RCGP Ethics Committee and were shared with all Council members and all College faculty boards and devolved councils. The outcome of the consultation and the wider issues were debated at RCGP Council in February 2020 and Council made the final decision on the College's position. The Council voting results were: 44 members voted that the College should continue to oppose a change in the law, 13 members voted that the College should not continue to oppose a change in the law, and 5 members abstained.
Council also decided that in view of the resources required to undertake membership consultations and the number of other pressing member priorities, such as workload and workforce, it will not review the College's position on this issue for at least five years unless there are significant developments.
Assisted dying consultation process
The process for the 2019 consultation on the College's position on a change in the law on assisted dying:
- In June 2019, UK Council decided to re-examine the College's position on a change in the law in assisted dying and agreed to undertake a whole member consultation on the issue. The results of the consultation would be advisory, so Council could be informed of its members' opinions on the topic.
- The consultation questions and briefing material were designed with a steering group of GPs.
- Savanta ComRes, an independent survey company, also reviewed the survey material and launched the survey for 6 weeks. Reminder emails were sent out to members and the consultation was flagged in regular College communications.
- Savanta ComRes collated and analysed the results and tested them for statistical significance and representativeness.
Publication date: 21 February 2020
The Royal College of General Practitioners will continue to oppose a change in the law on assisted dying, following a consultation of its members. The decision was ratified by the RCGP's governing Council today.
The member survey was conducted independently by Savanta ComRes. 6,674 members from across the UK responded to the online survey - 13.47% of those consulted*.
Members were asked whether RCGP should change its current position of opposing a change in the law on assisted dying:
- 47% of respondents said that the RCGP should oppose a change in the law on assisted dying
- 40% of respondents said the RCGP should support a change in the law on assisted dying, providing there is a regulatory framework and appropriate safeguarding processes in place
- 11% of respondents said that the RCGP should have a neutral position and
- 2% of respondents abstained from answering.
RCGP Council agreed today that the survey results did not support a change in the College's existing position on assisted dying**.
Under current laws in each of the four UK nations, assisted dying is illegal. The RCGP last reviewed its position on assisted dying in 2014 following a member consultation in 2013***.
RCGP Council has decided that it will not review the College's position on this issue for at least five years unless there are significant developments on the issue.
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "As the UK's largest medical Royal College it is important that we engage in debate and listen to what our members have to say on wide-ranging issues affecting GPs and their patients.
"Assisted dying is a controversial topic and this was reflected in the responses to our consultation. However, the highest proportion of respondents said that the College should continue to oppose a change in the law on assisted dying.
"This was the largest consultation on an issue of public policy that the College has conducted both in terms of response rate and volume of respondents. The survey results have been helpful in guiding College Council as to what our position should be.
"The role of the College now is to ensure that patients receive the best possible palliative and end of life care, and to this end we are working with Marie Curie and others to support this.
"Thank you to RCGP Joint Honorary Secretary Dr Victoria Tzortziou-Brown for leading this piece of work."
RCGP Press office: 0203 188 7659
Notes to editor
*The consultation was sent to 49,539 RCGP members and was in field between 29 October and 15 December 2019. The survey captured responses from a broad spectrum of RCGP members and the response rate of 13.47% is broadly in line with the industry average for this type of survey. Full data tables are published on the Savanta ComRes website.
**The voting of RCGP Council can be broken down as follows: that the RCGP will continue to oppose a change in the law on assisted dying - those in favour, 44; those against, 13; abstentions, 5; that Council will not consult again on the issue for five years unless there are significant developments in the issue - those in favour, 55, those against, 6; abstentions, 1.
***The consultation in 2013 asked different questions, all of which were free text, and used a mixed methodology, including face-to-face events and meetings and a small online survey that had 234 respondents. For the 2019 consultation, RCGP Council decided to follow a more structured approach and give a better opportunity to all its members to engage in this consultation in order to capture a more representative sample of our members` views on the subject. Due to the different methodologies between the two surveys it is not possible to accurately compare the results of the two consultations.
The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 53,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.
Previous consultation on the College's position on a change in the law on assisted dying
In 2013 the College ran a consultation through its 32 faculties, with a questionnaire comprised of free-text questions designed to gauge GPs' attitudes and views. It was conducted with a range of engagement techniques, including face to face events and meetings, as well as a small online survey which received 234 responses. The different faculty boards engaged with varying numbers of members and Council at the time were provided with brief summaries of the events and the free-text responses. The majority of events concluded that the College should be opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying. Of the 234 members who submitted their responses directly to the College 77% indicated that they felt the College should maintain its opposition to a change in the law, 18% wished to see the College move to a position of neutrality, and 5% supported a move to a position of being in favour of a change in the law.
Due to the different methodologies between the two surveys it is not possible to accurately compare the results of the two exercises.
- We also surveyed our Republic of Ireland members, but their responses were reported separately.
- See our weighted results (PDF file, 715 KB). Weighting did not affect the overall outcome as it only moved the margins by 1% but, as mentioned above, helped us to assess representatives across career stages.