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Ethics briefing
  1. Charlotte Wilson,
  2. Ruth Campbell,
  3. Julian C Sheather,
  4. Sophie Brannan,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Veronica English
  1. Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Charlotte Wilson, Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London, UK; cwilson{at}bma.org.uk

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Assisted dying update

Royal College of Physicians (RCP) adopts neutral position on assisted dying

In March 2019, the RCP announced that it would adopt a neutral position on assisted dying, following a survey of its UK fellows and members.1

The College had previously polled members and fellows on what the RCP position should be in 2014, at that time 44.4% of respondents thought the RCP should be opposed to assisted dying; 31% thought it should be neutral or have no position; and 24.6% thought it should be in favour. On the basis of these figures, the College reaffirmed its position opposing assisted dying.2

In announcing the 2019 survey, the College’s Council resolved that they would require a ‘supermajority’ of 60% to adopt a position either supporting or opposing a change in the law; if no such majority was received, the College would move to a position of neutrality. This approach was not without controversy, and a legal challenge to the Council’s decision is pending.3

In response to the question of what the RCP’s position should be (on whether there should be a change in the law to permit assisted dying), 43.4% thought the RCP should be opposed; 31.6% thought the RCP should be supportive; and 25% thought the RCP should adopt a neutral position. Without a supermajority of 60% either way, the College’s position became one of neutrality.1

New Jersey legalises assisted suicide for the terminally ill

New Jersey has become the ninth jurisdiction in the USA to legalise physician-assisted suicide after legislation was passed by the State senate in April 2019.4

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act will permit terminally ill adults, with 6 months or less to live, to request physician assistance in ending their life. Two doctors must confirm the patient’s diagnosis, prognosis, decision-making capacity and the voluntariness of their request, and if satisfied, can prescribe lethal medication, which the patient must self-administer. …

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