Angry campaigners attack RCN for change of stance on assisted suicide


Disabled activists have attacked the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) for weakening its policy on assisted suicide, despite only receiving backing for the move from about 0.15 per cent of its members.
The RCN has changed its position from opposition to a position where it neither supports nor opposes a change in the law to allow assisted suicide, following an “extensive and detailed consultation process”.
Almost half those who responded supported assisted suicide (49 per cent), compared with 40 per cent who opposed it.
But the RCN says only about 1,200 members responded to the consultation, as well as some forums and branches.
This means that about 0.35 per cent of the 175,000 members who received information about the consultation responded in favour of assisted suicide, and only about 0.15 per cent of its total 400,000 members.
The move came less than three weeks after a speech by Baroness [Jane] Campbell, supported by three other disabled peers, helped defeat moves in the House of Lords to weaken laws on assisted suicide.
Haqeeq Bostan, a spokesman for Not Dead Yet UK, an organisation of disabled people campaigning against the legalisation of assisted suicide, said he was “concerned” that a professional membership body was “moving down the road of putting disabled people in a position of fear”.
He said: “The number of people who responded is so small, but it is such a significant change.
“Taking a sounding is one thing, but there is no evidence to suggest they have taken expert opinion on this.
And Dave Morris, chair of Independent Living Alternatives, which promotes disabled people’s right to live independently, said: “I think there is some anger and some bemusement about how a membership organisation can do this on the basis of such a small sample.”
He said the move was part of a trend that was shifting in “a dangerous direction” and was “quite fundamental” in the context of the growing pressure to legalise assisted suicide.
An RCN spokeswoman said it was a “robust consultation” but “not a member ballot”.
She said the final decision was taken by its elected council members, who were “informed” by the consultation results, and despite the change in position, the themes of “improving palliative care, safeguarding the nurse-patient relationship and protecting vulnerable patients are absolutely unmovable”.
29 July 2009