Monday, July 8, 2013

Eight reasons why doctors should remain opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Peter Saunders
Dr. Peter Saunders, the campaign director for the Care Not Killing Alliance, published a blog article about the questionnaire that the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in the UK have circulated to its members. 

It appears that Dr Clare Gerada, the Chair of the RCGP is suggesting that the RCGP should consider taking a neutral position on euthanasia and/or assisted suicide.

Dr Saunders responded to the RCGP questionnaire with eight reasons why the RCGP should remain strongly opposed to euthanasia and/or assisted suicide: 

1. The majority of doctors are opposed to a change in the law. Opinion polls show an average of 65% doctors opposing the legalisation of assisted suicide and/or euthanasia with the remainder undecided or in favour. Palliative Medicine Physicians are 95% opposed and the Royal College of Physicians and British Geriatrics Society are officially opposed.

2. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are contrary to all historic codes of medical ethics, including the Hippocratic Oath, the Declaration of Geneva, the International Code of Medical Ethics and the Statement of Marbella. Neutrality would be a quantum change for the profession and against the international tide.

3. Neutrality on this particular issue would give it a status that no other issue enjoys. Doctors, quite understandably, are strongly opinionated and also have a responsibility to lead. The RCGP is a democratic body which takes clear positions on a whole variety of health and health-related issues. Why should assisted suicide and euthanasia enjoy a position which no other issue shares, especially when doctors will actually be the ones carrying it out?

4. Dropping medical opposition to the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia at a time of economic recession could be highly dangerous. Many families and the NHS itself are under huge financial strain and the pressure vulnerable people might face to end their lives so as not to be a financial (or emotional) burden on others is potentially immense.

5. Were the RCGP to drop its opposition, and as a consequence a law were to be passed, it would also leave the medical profession hugely divided at a time when, perhaps, more than any other time in British history, we need to be united as advocates for our patients and for the highest priorities in a struggling health service.

6. Going neutral would leave the RCGP gagged with no collective voice.  The British Medical Association (BMA) rejected an attempt to move it neutral at its 2012 annual representative meeting saying that neutrality was the worst of all positions. This was based on bitter experience. When the BMA took a neutral position for a year in 2005/2006 we saw huge pressure to change the law by way of the Joffe Bill. Throughout that crucial debate, which had the potential of changing the shape of medicine in this country, the BMA was forced to remain silent and took no part in the debate. 

7. Going neutral would instead play into the hands of  a campaign led by a small pressure group with a strong political agenda. Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD), which is affiliated to the pressure group ‘Dignity in Dying’ (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) has only 520 supporters, representing fewer than 0.25% of Britain’s 240,000 doctors. But in 2012 they flooded the BMA ARM with no less than nine motions calling for the association to go neutral in an attempt to silence medical opposition ahead of new bills being introduced to parliament in 2013.

8. The RCGP has been historically opposed to a change in the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia for good reasons. These reasons have not changed.

Going neutral on assisted dying would be inappropriate, undemocratic and potentially highly dangerous. It would also be playing into the hands of a small unrepresentative pressure group and giving an advantage to only one side of the debate. Furthermore it would communicate confused messages to the public at a critical time and divide the profession at a time when a united doctors’ voice is needed more than ever.

1 comment:

Winston said...

1. The majority of doctors do not represent British society. They would not be forced to assist if they did not wish to. This point is a red herring.

2. The Hippocratic Oath also forbids surgery and female doctors. All prohibitions against end-of-life compassion are, essentially, nothing more than laws against compassion.

3. Neutrality would help compassion reign.

4. Assisted suicide and medical rationing are not inextricably intertwined.

5. The medical profession is already divided. Why do you think so many doctors and nurses ALREADY help people die?

6. How is this worse than a collective voice against compassion and choice? Doctors should not be totalitarians at the end of life.

7. Small? 80% is hardly small. You're lying and using every dirty trick you can to keep torture legal.

8. And what are those reasons? Tradition? Fears of a slippery slope? The evidence in the Netherlands, Oregon and Belgium indicates otherwise.