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RCN abandons opposition to assisted suicide


The Royal College of Nursing has abandoned its position of opposition to assisted suicide, following consultation with its members.

The RCN has now adopted a position of neutrality on the issue, neither supporting peoples’ right to take their own lives, nor opposing it.

Following calls from members during the consultation, the college will issue guidance to nurses on the legal, ethical, regulatory and clinical issues involved in assisted suicide.

RCN general secretary Peter Carter said the complexity of the issue was reflected in the responses the college received to its 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,’ he said.

‘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.’


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Readers' comments (9)

  • I'm horrified to think that 49% of the nurses I regard as colleagues and fellow-workers think it is OK to kill/extinguish any human life.

    Who gives us the right? To whom are we accountable? Who will protect the weak, the vulnerable and the depressed (yes, Dignitas has acknowledged assisting someone suffering from depression alone, to kill themselves).

    WE DO need to change the current situation. Doctors and nurses need better training in palliative care and governments should fully support Hospices instead of relying on charity for their running costs.

    My heart goes out to those who are patients (and relatives/friends) who are undergoing suffering that is unbearable.

    But hard cases make for bad law. The 1967 Abortion Act was introduced for those hard cases and now look at how it is misused. Some want to make it even easier. The same will happen if we introduce Assisted Suicide.

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  • Don't get too sad Raymond! I was listening to Radio Four this pm and I believe the number of nurses polled was only 1300. My feeling is, how can that be representative of the total number of nurses we have in the UK?
    This whole subject is fraught with danger.
    The biggest problem and one I know from personal experience, is how difficult it is to get adequate pain relief. So many people 'bang on' about there being no need for anyone to be in pain or suffer with protracted pain. I say to them, Words are fine and that might be the theory but pain management in practise is something that is extremely difficult to get right.
    No one person reacts in the same way to the same medication as the next person and there are always a whole raft of side effects to accompany each and every single medication! As always, it's easy for those who've never been in a situation to 'wax lyrical' as to everything about that situation! 'Try it, I say, and see if you end up saying the same' !

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  • As nurses we must always respect our patients: rights,dignity, feeling, and in the case of assisted suicide we must respect their needs. As much as science has progressed , it has not alleviated the slow physical deterioration of many chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease. Science has not stopped families becoming increasingly burdened looking after a member who is suffering due to chronic illnesses. Life is precious but if the quality of life is poor and an individual is totally reliant on others to manage and maintain their most basic and personal daily body functions, with the fear of choking to death or drowning in lung secretions,then we who are able bodied should respect and support their choice of time and place to depart from living.

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  • Endorse the above comment by Christina McRae, once again you have people who are apparently 'experts' in any given field you care to imagine... (but who are not in the situations themselves), telling those who are! how precious life is and that it is no one's right to wish to, or to actively try to seek an end to interminable suffering/complete loss of dignity as a human being/loss of identity...

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  • I believe people have right to make their own decisions about their life, including how to live or end it. I have been involved in more than one case in the last 30 years where a young person considered decisions about her future as their life limiting illness renders them totally dependent on others for the simplest tasks. As a "professional" all I can do is advise assisted suicide is not legal in this country and ensure the person and family/carers receive the best physical and psychological care and support available. Any other course of action would be the individual persons choice.
    However, I do feel more support is needed for health professionals visiting patients and listening to these often tragic and emotional stories and events - you don't leave them behind at the end of the visit!

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  • im sorry but i feel thatassisted suicide is not something that as a practitioner whose role is to support the most vulnerable in society i can support in any way.

    i feel that raymond chesters position re; abortion is commenting on a different situation and the two should not be confused.

    i do agree fully with him re:
    "WE DO need to change the current situation. Doctors and nurses need better training in palliative care and governments should fully support Hospices instead of relying on charity for their running costs."
    i am not convinced that assisted suicide is an acceptable alternative to quality healthcare.

    in addition to this the evidence of unsafe practice in foreign clinics as well as the effect on those who actually kill someone they are the carer for strikes me as morally unacceptable to do anything but condemn.

    it is not the first time i have felt uncomfortable with the viewpoints of my profession but will be seeking an alternative professional body at the first opportunity as i am unable to condone such a weak stance on such an important issue as a nurses responsibility to the vulnerable

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  • Andrew Makin
    Registered Nursing Home Association.

    Tim Stokes makes several valid points. In particular we certainly do need as a profession to better understand palliative care. In a sector (long term care) which also cares for some of the most vulnerable in our society the prospect of a shift in our professional ethos fills me with dismay. I too am appalled that a body which supposedly represents my profession has taken such a weak stand.

    What the RCN seems to have failed to realise is that ethical neutrality is not a sustainable or stable position. This shift in position is a shift in culture which once begun has its own momentum. Opposition becomes acquiescence, then acceptance, and finally wholehearted support. Edmund Burke pointed out that all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Whether or not you believe that allowing or not allowing assisted suicide is evil, sitting on the fence will allow the most strident voices to carry the day: "the squeaking wheel gets the most grease".

    I have just celebrated my 60th birthday. I fully expect that by the time I come to need end of life care the RCN will be wholeheartedly supporting euthanasia. This frightens me, because who then will speak for me when I am unable to speak for myself?

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  • I am confused that there a lot of ironies in this country. For example, unjustly taking another person's life is a crime but yet assisted suicide might be legalised soon. Animal welfare is promoted but yet the life of an unborn child is not protected due to legality of abortion to a certain degree.

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  • As a Health Care Professional, and more importantly so, a human being, we/society needs to acknowledge that human suffering is not something we should endure. A vet would discuss the options with the owner of a very sick pet who's prognosis was poor. We don't like to see animals suffering, yet it seems for comfortable to allow humans to suffer.
    Agreed, assisted suicide should be discussed if/when appropriate but we do need to protect those vulnerable groups too. Simplistic but food for thought.

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