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Challenging RCP's unfair poll on assisted suicide

£24,090 of £40,000 goal

Raised by 342 people in 2 months
We are taking the Royal College of Physicians to court to challenge the poll it has recently conducted on assisted dying, which looks likely to result in the College dropping its historic opposition to physician assisted suicide. We have set up this GoFundMe page to support the legal challenge. Please consider contributing and sharing this page to ensure that the challenge can be brought.

The Case

In January 2019 the Royal College of Physicians announced its intention to poll its members again on the topic of assisted suicide, and the survey was carried out during February. The College currently opposes a change in the law that would legalise assisted suicide, with 57.5% of its membership being of that view when it last polled in 2014.

A small but influential minority within the College is unhappy with this position as they wish to see the law change. As they realise there is no appetite within the membership to support assisted suicide legislation, they have instead sought to change the College’s stance on the issue to ‘neutral’, by default. The bizarre structuring of the College’s current poll on the issue will shift the College’s position to neutral unless there is a 60% supra-majority in favour of continuing to oppose such legislation. It means that even if 59% of members vote to maintain opposition to a change in the law, the College will change to a neutral position anyway.

Using a supra-majority to change a policy is, as far as we are aware, entirely without precedent in matters of this kind. Such mechanisms are usually used to prevent long-term constitutional changes being implemented by small but temporary majorities, and thus they should always default to the status quo - in this case opposition to legal change. 

Using a supra-majority in this consultation makes it almost inevitable that the College will drop its historic opposition to assisted suicide.  

Why this matters

Dignity in Dying, which campaigns to legalise assisted suicide, have identified the opposition of medical Royal Colleges as a key obstacle in achieving their goal, saying to supporters: “we’ll only succeed in changing the law when medical organisations stop blocking change.”

This consultation therefore appears to be a tactical move to give a powerful boost to the Parliamentary campaign to change the law on assisted suicide. If the College adopts a position of neutrality, a key voice representing doctors' legitimate opposition to assisted suicide will have been silenced.  

We are taking the Royal College of Physicians to court to seek judicial review of their actions. We have been advised that there are good legal grounds on which to challenge the College's handling of the poll, including a breach of legitimate expectation, unfairness and irrationality. However, we will only be able to bring this legal challenge with your financial support. 

Your donations will be used to fund this legal challenge, and should there be any excess funds, they will be used at our discretion for related campaigns in opposition to assisted suicide (for instance, if similar attempts to impose neutrality are made in other medical institutions). In the event that there are any remaining funds 12 months after the conclusion of this case, they will be offered to the Association for Palliative Medicine, to be used to develop better care for patients with terminal illnesses in the UK and beyond.  Please note that this campaign is not endorsed or funded by the Association for Palliative Medicine. 

Please give generously and share this page widely within your networks. Thank you very much for your support. 

Dr Dermot Kearney MRCPI, Consultant Cardiologist, Gateshead
Dr Kathy Myers FRCP, Retired Consultant in Palliative Medicine, London
Dr Adrian Treloar FRCP, Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist, London
Dr David Randall MRCP, Registrar in Renal Medicine, London


For further reading, please see:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/bitter-split-on-assisted-dying-hits-royal-college-of-physicians-vlj38b63w  

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-6638611/DOMINIC-LAWSON-fight-misguided-drive-force-assisted-suicide.html  

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-disabled-need-to-know-doctors-won-t-back-assisted-dying-xfqpjjv0l  

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/01/doctors-cannot-be-neutral-on-assisted-dying/



Donated money will be transferred to a newly set up designated bank account administered jointly by two of the four doctors bringing the legal challenge (Kathy Myers and David Randall), who will use the money as outlined above - firstly to pay costs related to this legal campaign and secondly to assist related campaigns. Any money left over 12 months after the end of the current campaign will be offered to the Association for Palliative Medicine.
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Dear all,

Here's an update on our legal challenge to the RCP over its change of stance on assisted suicide:

- The Charity Commission have written to us to acknowledge a number of the concerns about the College's conduct over the poll, and have indicated that they will be raising these issues directly with the College.

- We are waiting for an appeal hearing (which will probably occur in 2-3 months) to discover whether we can take this all the way to court. If we are unsuccessful here, we can't proceed with the case. However, if we are successful, it will come to trial in the High Court at some point in the future. We remain open to finding an acceptable negotiated settlement with the College.

- Further details about the resignation of the Chair of the College's ethics committee can be found here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/06/professor-quits-royal-college-physicians-new-assisted-dying/

- The change in the RCP's stance on assisted dying has already been cited by Paul Lamb in his appeal against the law that prohibits assisted suicide: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48184199. We are committed to continuing with our challenge, so that the views of doctors can't be misrepresented in this way - especially as Mr Lamb's case does not meet the criteria of 'assisted dying' set out by the RCP anyway, because he is not terminally ill, and not able to self administer lethal medication.

Thank you for your ongoing support. We will send out further updates as things progress.

Kind regards,



David
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Dear all,

This is to provide you with an update about our challenge to the Royal College of Physicians over its recent move to neutrality on the issue of assisted dying.

We have taken further legal advice over the weekend and early this week, and been told that there are good grounds for continuing our challenge. Thus, we have announced our intention to appeal the initial refusal at an oral hearing - we expect this will happen at some point over the few weeks.

Further news that has broken this week is that three members of the RCP's ethics committee - including its Chair, Professor Albert Weale - have resigned over the College's handling of the poll. This provides further evidence of the poor process followed by the College, and justifies our legal challenge.

Thanks so much for your donations, which have made this legal challenge possible, and I will endeavour to keep you updated as things progress.

Kind regards,


David
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Dear all,

You may well have seen the news today:

- The College published the results of their completed poll, and have formally dropped their opposition to assisted suicide.

- We were denied permission at an initial hearing to seek judicial review, chiefly on technical grounds relating to a question of whether the College's public lobbying of Parliament constitutes a 'public role'. Importantly, the judge left open the option of appealing her decision at an oral hearing in the coming weeks.

Below is the text of a statement put out by myself and the other three claimants, summarising our reaction to the sad situation in which the College now finds itself:



"We are disappointed but not surprised by the decision of the Royal College of Physicians to move to a position of neutrality on assisted suicide.
The Council of the RCP made clear its desire to see the College adopt a position of neutrality on this issue. It is very difficult to achieve a majority for any particular position in a vote with multiple options, and the conventional approach in such cases is to accept the view of the largest group.

The College decided to require a 60% supra-majority to maintain opposition to assisted suicide, in a three way question, making today’s outcome almost inevitable.

The results of this survey justify our decision to challenge the College in court over its handling of this poll. We note that:

* 43.4% in this survey believe the College should continue to oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide, compared with 44.4% in 2014 - in both cases representing the largest group of doctors.

* Once people answering 'don't know' are removed (this option was not present in 2014), 55% of those who expressed a personal opinion on assisted suicide are opposed to its legalisation, compared with 57.5% in 2014.

* Only 25% of RCP members and fellows support the College's new position of neutrality (down from 31% in 2014), and neutrality is the least well supported of the three potential positions the College could hold.
The results therefore show that the views of RCP members and fellows are virtually unchanged since 2014 – making the College’s new position at odds with the opinions expressed by the largest group of grassroots Members and Fellows.

The College has dropped its historic opposition to assisted suicide despite the biggest group of respondents being personally opposed to this and supporting public opposition. The new position of neutrality is supported by a mere quarter of the College.

We were disappointed not to receive permission today to challenge the decision of the College in the High Court on technical grounds.

Sick and vulnerable people are at risk as a result of College neutrality on assisted suicide. The profession has not moved on this issue, so neither should the College."




We are currently discussing with our legal team the merits of proceeding to an appeal hearing, and will aim to form a decision on this over the next few days. Thanks once again to all of you for your generosity - currently the amount donated goes a long way towards covering the costs incurred up to this point.

I am sure many of you will share my dismay at seeing an institution such as the Royal College of Physicians playing its part in the campaign to see assisted suicide legalised. It has been a privilege to challenge this process. I am sure that our legal action has already drawn public attention to the realities of what is going on here, and that it will continue to do so if we press ahead to an appeal.

Thanks once again,



David

(On behalf of Dermot, Kathy and Adrian and myself)
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Dear friends,

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported this crowdfunding campaign over the past two weeks. It has been humbling to see so many people rally to our support, and as I write this, 262 people have supported the crowdfunding effort with an incredible total of £19,011 - almost half of our initial goal of £40,000 after only two weeks. We are all hugely grateful for your generosity which is ensuring that this challenge can go ahead.

We filed our challenge with the court two weeks ago. We understand that at some point this week a judge will formally review our application and decide on whether to grant us permission to take this to a trial at the High Court.

I will look to keep you updated with our progress. You might be interested to know our challenge was featured on Radio 4's Law in Action. Right to Life UK produced a clip of the programme which can be seen here: https://youtu.be/hG2aOxTvsVs

Thank you once again for your support, and please do continue to share this page through email and social media to ensure that we can raise the outstanding funds.

With thanks,


David Randall
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