Published by The Economist.
IN THE HALF-MILLENNIUM since it was founded the Royal College of Physicians has seen plenty of squabbles, including the storming of its building in the 18th century over its exclusion of non-Oxbridge graduates, and a long battle over whether to admit women (which, after four centuries, it did). The latest row is over one of the most fundamental medical questions of all: should doctors help willing patients to die?
The college is surveying its 35,000 members on whether to back changes to the law on assisted dying, which is illegal in Britain. Five years ago 44% of them voted against and 25% in favour (the rest were neutral). Under the rules then, the plurality of votes against changing the law was enough to carry the day. This time, the college has decided that a supermajority of 60% is needed for either side to win. Since neither the pro nor anti doctors are expected to reach this threshold, the organisation looks likely to default to a neutral stance.
This has provoked fury among medics who oppose assisted dying. Some have accused the college of a “stitch-up”. A former chairman of its ethics committee, John Saunders, has threatened legal action over what he called a “rigged” vote. Further inflaming the row is the presence on the college’s governing council of a handful of prominent supporters of Dignity in Dying, a campaign group which backs assisted suicide and which wants the college to take a neutral position on the issue.
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