By Hilary White

LONDON, August 20, 2009 ( – A British Christian nursing and midwives association has reacted to the announcement last month by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to drop their opposition to assisted suicide, saying that it sends the “wrong signals to the vulnerable.” Late last month the College announced it has changed its policy towards assisted suicide from opposition to one of neutrality. Christian Nurses and Midwives (CNM), however, says the College had canvassed only half its members and made the decision based on less than one quarter of one per cent of its membership's wishes.

The College in their statement claimed that the decision had come following “an extensive and detailed consultation process.” Calling assisted suicide a “complex and highly emotive subject” on which there is “no overwhelming support” either for or against legalizing assisted suicide, the College announced July 24th that it “neither supports nor opposes a change in the law.”

The College said that in its three month consultation, it received 1200 responses to its survey, out of a total membership of over 400,000. Nevertheless, the policy was changed based on the findings, of which the majority, 49 per cent, supported assisted suicide and 40 per cent opposed.

RCN chief executive Dr. Peter Carter said, “What has changed is that the college will now be able to engage in a debate, understanding that our members are broadly split 50:50 on this.”

But CNM Secretary Steve Fouch said that fewer than one per cent of half the College membership responded to the survey and fewer than half of respondents wanted the shift in policy.

“This seems,” Fouch said, “a somewhat tenuous basis for realigning the College's stance. Overall there is scant evidence of a sea change among nurses to favour assisted suicide.”

He continued, “CNM does not feel the profession should step back from actively opposing legal changes that would loosen safeguards for vulnerable patients, or change the role of the nurse to one which actively aids the death of a patient.

“This would fundamentally change the nature of the nurse/patient relationship and would be detrimental to the care of dying, disabled, and elderly patients. At a time when there is growing anxiety about how we will care for the elderly and severely disabled in the future, this policy shift sends the wrong signals to the vulnerable.”

This position was upheld by the Royal College of GPs whose spokesman, Professor Steve Field, told the BBC, “We believe that better palliative care, better pain control and better support for patients is the way forward.”
Vicky Robinson, a consulting nurse and a spokesman for the group Care not Killing, told the BBC, “I see my professional body as that body that is responsible to uphold the law of the land.”

“To say that they are now neutral based on less than one per cent of a vote from its members, I think is a political act. And it leaves me very very cold and worried about what is going on in RCN Council,” Robinson said.

Robinson's concerns about political motives in the RCN is bolstered by the organization's recent history of support for a variety of “progressivist” issues. In 2005, the RCN issued a statement supporting the proposal to legalise prostitution, saying that doing so would eliminate the stigma associated with the “sex trade.”

Currently the law in Britain can levy a 14-year prison sentence against someone convicted of assisting a person to commit suicide, but the public prosecutor's office has said that it will not prosecute relatives and loved ones who accompany patients to Switzerland to the Dignitas suicide facility. Last month the Law Lords instructed the prosecutor to “clarify” the status of the law in response to a lawsuit by pro-euthanasia campaigners.

While the British Medical Association remains opposed to legalizing assisted suicide, public opinion is swaying in favor. A recent poll by the Populus group found that six in 10 people in Britain now want to end prosecutions for assisting suicides, and 74 per cent want it to be legal for doctors to help people to kill themselves.

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UK Nurses Urge Legalization of Prostitution


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