RCN moves to neutral position on assisted suicide
Published: 24 July 2009
The Royal College of Nursing moved to a neutral position on assisted suicide following a discussion at its Council meeting today (24 July).
RCN Council's UK position, which followed an extensive and detailed consultation process, means that the RCN moves from opposing assisted suicide to a position where the College neither supports nor opposes a change in the law to allow assisted suicide.
Council also decided that nurses need detailed guidance on the issue which will now be commissioned. The guidance will consider the complicated legal, regulatory, ethical and clinical frameworks around assisted suicide.
Dr Peter Carter, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary, 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 split in responses shows that there is no overwhelming support among nurses for either opposing or supporting a change in the law on assisted suicide. We fully support the common themes that came through the consultation, namely maintaining the nurse-patient relationship, protecting vulnerable patients and making sure there is adequate investment in end of life care.
"We will continue to play an active role in any discussion around assisted suicide to ensure that the nurse voice is heard. It is vital that we now commission further work to make sure that nurses receive much needed guidance around the legal, ethical, regulatory and clinical issues of assisted suicide."
The decision, voted on by Council members, follows a three month consultation with RCN members which drew over 1,200 individual responses.
RCN members voiced a range of opinions on the issue. The majority of individuals supported assisted suicide (49%), however there was also substantial opposition (40%). The remaining submissions were either neutral on the issue (9%) or failed to record a position (1%).
Chair of Council, Sandra James, said: "Assisted suicide is a high-profile and emotive issue and it is right that we consulted thoroughly with members before coming to our decision. Council had a long and careful deliberation of the range of options available. In reaching our decision we considered individual members' opinions as well as the views from RCN branches and forums, and non-RCN affiliated bodies."
Today's decision comes in the wake of defeated amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill which sought to legalise aspects of assisting suicide including travelling with those who wish to commit suicide abroad.
The RCN consulted widely on the issue of assisted suicide during the period 16 February to 22 May. Consultation methods included briefing papers and response forms (email and web based), Discussion Zone, presentations by regional boards, Congress fringe events and a website film. All the background information on the consultation can be accessed by going to the consultations section of this website or take a look at our frequently asked questions page. Overall, the consultation reached around 175,000 members.