Clinical oncologists give their views on assisted dying

Thursday 21 March 2019

UK cancer doctors have been polled on their views on assisted dying.

Following ongoing media and public interest on the topic, The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) surveyed its 1,572 UK-based clinical oncology members and fellows in February 2019, sampling the views of clinical oncology consultants, as well as trainee and retired consultants.   

Clinical oncologists are specialist doctors who treat cancer with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, and they are educated, supported and represented by the RCR.

The 2019 survey results give a mixed picture, but do reveal some increase in support for assisted dying compared to past polling by the RCR.

However, of those clinicians expressing an opinion, most did not support a change in the law in order to help terminally ill patients end their lives. When asked if they would take part, the majority said they would not be prepared to participate actively if the law is changed.

Previously, the RCR surveyed its clinical oncology members on the topic in 2006, when the House of Lords debated a bill on the subject. At that time, 249 doctors responded.

Of the 540 clinical oncologists who responded in 2019, 46.9 per cent did not support a change in the law in favour of assisted dying, with 37.3 per cent wanting change and 16 per cent undecided. This compares with 2006, when 75.9 per cent were against legal change, 18.9 per cent were for and 5.2 per cent were undecided.

When asked if they would be prepared to actively aid assisted dying in the event of legislative change, 56.1 per cent of recent respondents said they would not, 23.2 per cent said they would and 20.9 per cent were undecided. In 2006, 71.9 per cent of those polled rejected active participation, 18.1 per cent said they would aid assisted dying and 5.2 per cent were undecided.  

As a result of the clearly mixed views expressed, the RCR will not take a faculty position on the issue.  

Dr Jeanette Dickson, RCR Vice-President for Clinical Oncology, said:

“The RCR’s Faculty of Clinical Oncology ran this survey to ascertain the current views of our fellows and members on what is an extremely complex and sensitive topic, which is now increasingly in the public and media spotlight.

“As the results are so varied, the RCR will not hold an official faculty position. However, should there be a change in the law on assisted dying we will work to support all our members, irrespective of their viewpoint.”

Read our poll sumary report for full results and analysis.