A group of doctors have today won the legal right to challenge the Royal College of Physicians' (RCP) controversial decision to go neutral on assisted suicide after overturning a ruling by the Charity Commission.
The doctors launched their legal action against Britain's oldest medical group after it announced in March that the college was dropping its long-established opposition to assisted suicide, following a poll requiring a 60 per cent supra-majority.
At the time thousands of doctors voiced their concerns at decision to change the College's position before consulting members, a failure to follow previous procedure and the unprecedented use of a supra-majority invalidated the poll. However, the RCP decided to press on with the change.
Following this decision, three doctors decided to launch legal action to review the decision and processes used by the College. They argued that the RCP had broken charity law. Despite agreement from the Charity Commission that it was a legally sustainable claim, the charities regulator withheld permission to allow the doctors to progress legal action, as they had already raised their concerns with the RCP and warned them not to repeat these mistakes.
Today, in the High Court, this decision by the Charity Commission has been reversed, giving the doctors a green light to take further action against the RCP.
Dr David Randall, one of the claimants commented: "Today's judgement is good news for doctors and for society.
"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.
"The unsatisfactory way in which the College has approached this matter, ignoring the advice of its own ethics committee, has left it with a position of neutrality on assisted dying that prevents it from engaging in the public debate on this important issue. We expect the College to be active in championing key concerns such as the protection of vulnerable patients, the promotion of palliative care and hospice services, and the defence of conscientious objection for all healthcare practitioners. Doctors are not neutral about assisted dying, and neither should the College be."
Paul Conrathe, Human rights solicitor from Sinclairslaw commented: "Today the court expressed its' concern that the decision of the Royal College of Physicians to change its position to neutrality was unlawful and irrational. It was concerned that the College had adopted as its public position the least favoured option in its recent poll.
The College has suppressed the report of its own ethics committee into the results of the poll and adopted a supra-majority criteria that effectively pre-judged the outcome of that poll. Today the court has paved the way for the College to be brought to account." .
RCP to poll its members: www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/rcp-poll-its-members-assisted-dying
Survey closed at 5pm on 1 March: www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/rcp-poll-its-members-assisted-dying
Times covered the row that's erupted thanks to the poll: www.thetimes.co.uk/article/bitter-split-on-assisted-dying-hits-royal-college-of-physicians-vlj38b63w
1,500 doctors back campaign against 'tacit support' plan: www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1085158/assisted-dying-doctors-plea-campaign-health-debate-for-against-uk-dignitas
Judicial Review Crowdfunder: www.gofundme.com/rcp-poll-challenge
Dr Dermot Kearney MRCP, Consultant Cardiologist, Gateshead
Dr Kathy Myers FRCP, Retired Consultant in Palliative Medicine, London
Dr David Randall MRCP, Registrar in Renal Medicine, London
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