British Royal College of Nursing Under Fire for Ditching Assisted Suicide Opposition

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 24, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Royal College of Nursing Under Fire for Ditching Assisted Suicide Opposition

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 24
, 2009

London, England ( — The Royal College of Nursing has reversed its position and no longer opposes assisted suicide — instead taking a neutral view on the thorny issue. The decision is bringing the RCN serious condemnation, including from the Christian Nurses and Midwives group, which says it sends a bad message to the disabled.

The RCN, which represents 400,000 nurses in the United Kingdom, is now the only major medical group in the nation to not be on record opposing assisted suicide.

Peter Carter, RCN chief executive, said: “Assisted suicide is a complicated issue and this was reflected in the range and variety of responses that we received to our consultation.

The British Medical Association dropped its opposition to assisted suicide in 2005 but switched back the following year after a backlash.

The Christian group said RCN was wrong to change its position because most of its membership had not responded to the idea.

"While we welcome the consultation process, by the RCN’s own admission, only half its membership were reached, of those less than 1% responded, and less than half of those expressed a desire to shift policy either in favor or towards neutrality," said Steve Fouch, CNM secretary.

The RCN’s own internal poll showed 49 percent supporting the legalization of assisted suicide, 40 percent in opposition and 1 percent unsure.

He said the RCN’s policy shift would send "the wrong signals to the vulnerable."

Carter admitted that the poll results showed "there is no overwhelming support among nurses for either opposing or supporting a change in the law on assisted suicide."

Paul Tully, the general secretary of the British pro-life group SPUC, is also condemning the move.

"Assisting or encouraging a person to commit suicide is a criminal offence. It is irresponsible for a professional body of careers to adopt a posture that helping a person to commit suicide is a reasonable thing to do," he said in comments obtained.

For hundreds of years western civilization has regarded suicide as morally disordered. When suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961, it was made clear by the government that the change was not intended to give any sense of moral approval to suicide. It was from a motive of compassion to families and to survivors of suicide attempts," he explained.

Tully also suggested that the RCN failed to consult its full national membership before making the decision to reverse course.

"The RCN’s Council have based their change on a consultation exercise in which only a fraction of one percent of their members took part. They clearly have no mandate from nurses as a whole for this move," he added.

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