The Royal College of Physicians in the UK has confirmed its opposition to the legalisation of euthanasia, saying the majority of doctors would be unwilling to participate in ending the lives of patients even if the law in Britain were to change. 

The confirmation comes following a legal challenge brought by four doctors who had launched a legal action against the medical group after it announced that it was dropping its long-established opposition to assisted suicide, adopting a neutral stance instead.

At the time the court challenge was launched, legal group Alliance Defending Freedom explained:

The RCP announced that it would conduct a poll of its members on euthanasia in January. This attracted great controversy by requiring a 60% ‘super-majority’ in favour of any outcome or else the College would change its stance to ‘neutral’. The four doctors have said this move is unlawful and have launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the legal challenge. The results of the poll are due to be released later this month.

The RCP, which represents more than 35,000 doctors, has long been formally opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia. In 2014, 57.6% of its membership opposed a change in the law would legalise assisted suicide. However, its latest poll aims to remove the College’s formal opposition to such a legislative change.

The group of doctors have argued that use of a ‘super-majority’ vote on such issues is without precedent in professional organisations in the UK. They have said that it appears to be a tactical move to give a strong boost to the campaign to change the law on assisted suicide. The largest euthanasia lobby group in the UK has previously identified the opposition of medical bodies as a key obstacle to changing to law. Two well-known patrons of this organisation, and active campaigners for legalising euthanasia, are on the RCP Council – the internal body driving the RCP poll. The four doctors are seeking to challenge the poll on the basis that it is “unfair, irrational, and a breach of legitimate expectation.”

Dr David Randall, one of the claimants commented at the time that: “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.

Now the RCP has clarified that “it does not support a change in the law to permit assisted dying,” and stated that “the majority of doctors would be unwilling to participate actively in assisted dying if the law were changed to permit it.”

Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International, welcomed the clarification and said the RCP had “taken a step in the right direction and pushed back against those who have sought to misrepresent and instrumentalise the 2019 vote to push for a change in UK law”.

“The detrimental effects of euthanasia on individuals and society have become very clear in countries that have already gone down this path. There is nothing progressive about a society that refuses to care for its most vulnerable members. Given what the RCP represents, it would have been disappointing to see the organisation abandon its established opposition to euthanasia – especially when the change is promoted by a small minority with political motives,” he said.