Doctors win right to challenge Royal College of Physicians’ controversial decision to go neutral on assisted suicide

News Release

Dermot Kearney, Kathy Myers, David Randall

A group of doctors have today won the legal right to challenge the Royal College of Physicians’ (RCP) controversial decision to go neutral on assisted suicide after overturning a ruling by the Charity Commission.

The doctors launched their legal action against Britain’s oldest medical group after it announced in March that the college was dropping its long-established opposition to assisted suicide, following a poll requiring a 60 per cent supra-majority.

At the time thousands of doctors voiced their concerns at decision to change the College’s position before consulting members, a failure to follow previous procedure and the unprecedented use of a supra- majority invalidated the poll. However, the RCP decided to press on with the change.

Following this decision, three doctors decided to launch legal action to review the decision and processes used by the College. They argued that the RCP had broken charity law. Despite agreement from the Charity Commission that it was a legally sustainable claim, the charities regulator withheld permission to allow the doctors to progress legal action, as they had already raised their concerns with the RCP and warned them not to repeat these mistakes.

Today, in the High Court, this decision by the Charity Commission has been reversed, giving the doctors a green light to take further action against the RCP.

Dr David Randall, one of the claimants commented: “Today’s judgement is good news for doctors and for society.

We believe that it is vitally important that doctors’ voices are heard on the issue of assisted dying, which if legalised would represent the single biggest change in the ethics and practice of medicine for a generation. The unsatisfactory way in which the College has approached this matter, ignoring the advice of its own ethics committee, has left it with a position of neutrality on assisted dying that prevents it from engaging in the public debate on this important issue. We expect the College to be active in championing key concerns such as the protection of vulnerable patients, the promotion of palliative care and hospice services, and the defence of conscientious objection for all healthcare practitioners. Doctors are not neutral about assisted dying, and neither should the College be.”

Paul Conrathe, Human rights solicitor from Sinclairslaw commented:

 “Today the court expressed its’ concern that the decision of the Royal College of Physicians to change its position to neutrality was unlawful and irrational. It was concerned that the College had adopted as its public position the least favoured option in its recent poll.

The College has suppressed the report of its own ethics committee into the results of the poll and adopted a supra-majority criteria that effectively pre-judged the outcome of that poll. Today the court has paved the way for the College to be brought to account.”

For media inquiries, please contact Alistair Thompson on 07970 162225.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The Case In 2014 the College polled its member on changing the law on assisted suicide. They that nearly six in 10 (57.5 per cent) opposed any change.

The doctors contend that realising there was no appetite within the membership to support assisted suicide legislation, a small but influential group within the RCP sought to change the stance of the College to ‘neutral’ without consulting its members and then structuring a survey that required an unprecedented 60 per cent supra-majority in favour on continuing opposition to assisted suicide legislation.

Supra-majorities are usually used to prevent long-term constitutional changes being implemented by small but temporary majorities and thus they should always default to the status quo – in this instance opposition to legal change. Using a supra-majority in this consultation makes it almost inevitable that the College will drop its historic opposition to assisted suicide.

Crowdfunder

To help fund this legal challenge, on Friday 1 March, the doctors behind the JR launched a crowdfunder. It has already raised nearly £4,000 in just a few days.

The groups of doctors have made it clear any excess funds will be used at their discretion for related campaigns in opposition to assisted suicide. If there are remaining funds 12months after the conclusion of this case, they will go to the Association for Palliative Medicine.

You can see this here: https://www.gofundme.com/rcp-poll-challenge

Links

  • RCP to poll its members: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/rcp- poll-its-members-assisted-dying
  • Survey closed at 5pm on 1 March: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/rcp-poll-its-members- assisted-dying
  • Times covered the row that’s erupted thanks to the poll: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/bitter-split-on-assisted- dying-hits-royal-college-of-physicians-vlj38b63w
  • 1,500 doctors back campaign against ‘tacit support’ plan: https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1085158/assisted-dying- doctors-plea-campaign-health-debate-for-against-uk-dignitas
  • Judicial Review Crowdfunder: https://www.gofundme.com/rcp-poll- challenge The Doctors
  • Dr Dermot Kearney MRCP, Consultant Cardiologist, Gateshead
  • Dr Kathy Myers FRCP, Retired Consultant in Palliative Medicine, London
  • Dr David Randall MRCP, Registrar in Renal Medicine, London

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