Royal College of Surgeons stops opposing assisted dying as most surgeons support

Today, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has moved to a neutral stance on assisted dying for terminally ill adults. This follows a survey carried out in March that has found six in ten surgeons personally support assisted dying. Humanists UK welcomes this news but believes that the majority in favour of support means the College should have moved to a position of support.

The RCS’s move leaves the Royal College of GPs as the last remaining Royal College to retain opposition to changing the law for terminally ill people. This is despite the majority of GPs wanting to move to a neutral or supportive position when a similar survey was conducted in 2020.

A majority of RCS survey respondents (52%) said the RCS should be supportive of a change in the law to permit assisted dying for mentally competent, terminally ill adults. 20% said the College should take a neutral position while 25% supported continuing opposition. 61% also said they personally support a change in the law, while 29% said they were opposed and 10% undecided.

Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell said:

‘It is great to see yet another Royal College understand the reality of assisted dying and end their opposition to it. However, considering a majority of their own members thought the College should move to a supportive position, the Council should have been much braver, and adopted a position that reflects its members.

‘People who are terminally ill or intolerably suffering absolutely deserve the right to make choices at the end of their lives. The public overwhelmingly supports the right for such people to have a dignified death on their own terms. Politicians in the country must now face this reality – medical professionals support a change in the law.’

In relation to the role of doctors in any future assisted dying process, 59% thought doctors should be involved in confirming a patient meets the eligibility criteria; 42% thought doctors should prescribe the drugs; and 23% thought that doctors should be present while patients self-administer the drugs.

In spite of this majority support, the Council voted to adopt a position of neutrality.

This is the latest move in swathes of royal medical colleges changing their position on assisted dying. The British Medical Association ended its opposition and moved to a neutral position on assisted dying in 2021. The Royal Colleges of Physicians, Medicine, Nursing, and Psychiatrists have also recently adopted positions of neutrality.

Humanists UK believes that any adult of sound mind who is intolerably suffering from an incurable, physical condition and has a clear and settled wish to die should have the option of an assisted death. This is because humanists support personal freedom for each individual to choose how to live their lives so long as they do no harm to others. It is possible to create a law on assisted dying that affords this freedom to such individuals, while having robust enough safeguards to protect others from harm.