“An issue which goes to the heart of medicine”.

The RCGP is holding a consultation on ‘assisted dying’ which closes on 9 October. The British Journal of General Practice publishes two differing views.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is holding a consultation on what position the College should adopt in regard to the licensing by law of physician-assisted suicide.  While there is no reason to believe that the College’s current position of opposing a change in the law is not shared by the majority of GPs, there is equally no reason why GPs should not be asked again what they think on this contentious issue. 

Against this background the British Journal of General Practice has published two personal views – one by Dr Clare Gerada, a London GP and Chair of Council of the RCGP, who favours a stance of neutrality on the part of the College; and the other by Professor Ilora Finlay, a former GP, a consultant in palliative medicine and a Fellow of the RCGP, who cautions against the College changing its stance. 

Dr Gerada argues that the question of whether ‘assisted dying’ should be legalised is “a matter for society as a whole to decide” and that “the RCGP’s collective view should not trump the view of the man on the Clapham omnibus”.  Professor Finlay agrees that it is a matter for society as a whole but she points out that “it is not society as a whole that is being asked to carry it out”.  “The people who would be in the front line of any such law and who would be accountable for deciding whether a request for assisted suicide should be granted and for supplying the lethal drugs to carry it out”, she observes, “would be doctors and especially GPs”.  Professor Finlay believes that “as long as we are talking about physician-assisted suicide, the views of the medical profession, and especially those within it who are likely to find themselves in the firing line, are of particular importance”.  It is, she says, “a case of ‘no decision about me without me'”.

In her article, therefore, Professor Finlay urges “all GPs, whatever their view of this controversial issue, to make their views known to the College”.  The consultation ends on 9 October.