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The BMA and the Academy of the Medical Royal Colleges should follow the RCP and give all its members a say on assisted dying

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l543 (Published 06 February 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l543

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Re: The BMA and the Academy of the Medical Royal Colleges should follow the RCP and give all its members a say on assisted dying

Whilst I agree with the author that ‘patients are not offered enough choice in how illness at the end of life is managed’, offering someone the option of premature death, as the author implies, is not the solution. I am aware that as a Palliative Medicine Physician, the people whom I have the privilege to treat near the end of their lives only represent the tip of the iceberg of those who could benefit from palliative care.

Rather than devoting so many journal articles, podcasts and radio airwaves to the ‘assisted dying’ debate, the medical profession should instead be discussing what we can do to help those people who need our services whom we haven’t been able to reach. A review published in 2011 estimated that 92,000 people in England have an unmet palliative care need – this number could indeed be an underestimate.1

Until we address the barriers to accessing palliative care, we are missing the point. In my role as a Palliative Medicine Physician I regularly encounter patients, confronted with their own mortality, who are worried about being a burden to family or society as their condition deteriorates. How many more people are out there who feel this way, but do not have access to palliative care services for support?

Instead of polling its members about ‘assisted dying’, the Royal College should instead be asking, ‘what can we do to improve access to palliative care?’

1 Hughes-Hallett et al. Funding the Right Care and Support for Everyone: Creating a Fair and Transparent Funding System; the Final Report of the Palliative Care Funding Review. July 2011. Accessed 11 February 2019 at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploa...

Competing interests: No competing interests

11 February 2019
Vanessa Jackson
ST4 Palliative Medicine
East Midlands