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RCGP decision ‘seriously flawed’ as College maintains assisted dying opposition despite majority wanting change

Humanists UK has today expressed severe disappointment at the Royal College of GPs’ (RCGP) decision to retain its opposition to changing the law on assisted dying despite the majority of GPs wanting to move to a neutral or supportive position, and said questions must now be asked about the handling of the College’s consultation.

Today the RCGP announced the results of its assisted dying consultation. 40% voted for the RCGP to support a change in the law, 11% said they want the RCGP to be neutral and 47% voted for the RCGP to maintain opposition. 2% abstained. Excluding abstentions, that would mean 52% voted for a change in position to neutral or support, and 48% opposed. However, in spite of this the College’s Council has decided to retain its opposition on the basis of the plurality voicing opposition. A total of 6,674 members had their say in the online survey (13.47% of those consulted).

Humanists UK, which campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying and is currently supporting right to die claimant Paul Lamb’s legal challenge, said the College’s decision to ignore the majority of voters seriously undermines the College’s continuing opposition, adding that the handling of the consultation is ‘seriously flawed.’

In the UK assisted dying is illegal and doctors found guilty of helping someone to die can be jailed for up to 14 years. In June 2019 the College announced it would consult its 53,000 members on whether the law should change. It was the first time since 2014 that the College asked its members their views. The British Medical Association (BMA) is also consulting its members on assisted dying with votes closing next Thursday.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:

‘The conclusion of this consultation is seriously flawed. The fact that most GPs supported a change in the law or neutrality but the College is to remain opposed is terrible. If those GPs who voiced support for a change in the law had known how this decision would be made then they could have all voted for neutrality to ensure it received the majority, and we would now end up with the College moving to neutrality.

‘It is vital that those who are of sound mind and terminally ill or incurably suffering are able to end their lives in a time and manner of their choosing, as this is the only way to ensure their dignity is respected. This appalling decision will mean that such people will continue to be let down by the RCGP even though a majority of their members wanted change. Questions must now be asked about the College’s handling of this vitally important issue.’


Humanists UK believes that individuals who are of sound mind but who are terminally ill or incurably suffering should have a right to decide to end their life at a time and in a manner of their choosing. Paul Lamb, who is paralysed from the neck down, wants to be able to end his life at the time and in the manner of his choosing if his condition worsens. He argues that the current law – which prohibits any assistance under threat of up to 14 years’ imprisonment – breaches his human rights.

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read the College’s announcement.

Read our previous news item announcing the RCGP consultation and BMA consultation.

Read our most previous news item on Paul Lamb’s court case.

Read more about our work on assisted dying.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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