The Royal College of Nursing( RCN), has formally changed its position on assisted suicide from against to neutral. The RCN website states " The RCN is to move to a neutral position on assisted suicide following a discussion at its Council meeting(24 July)" and " RCN Council's position,which followed extensive consultation, means that the RCN moves from opposing assisted suicide to a position where the college neither supports nor opposes a change to the law to allow assisted suicide." The communique refers to the complex legal, ethical issues etc which were raised and the concerns about vulnerable patients and patient care in general, which were raised in the consultation and in the extensive information giving exercise that appears to have taken place before the consultation exercise and the Council discussion.
So, on the face of it an open process, with opportunities to hear pro and con information and then express one's views through a voting process. But, I'm not so sure. It appears that there might have been extensive information giving - and it would be interesting to see the actual content and balance- but the "consultation, though extensive in intention was anything but in response. It seems 175,000 members were contacted but there were only 1200 responses. Of these 49% supported assisted suicide, whilst 40% opposed with the remaining 11% forming a sort of "don't know" group.
Now, according to my dodgy arithmetic, 49% of 1200 is 588 and 40% of 1200 is 480. So the decision of the Council, assuming it was based on the response, was taken on behalf of 588 members from a total of 175,000. The 11% "don't knows" amounts to 132 members.
What would be interesting is to know the views and deliberations of each member of the Council. Where do they stand on the issue? How can you make such a significant change on the basis of such a minority response. We are talking about human lives as well as the relationship of care between nurse and patient. Are the Council members not concerned at the low level response to what appears to have been an extensive information campaign? And what does it say about the nursing profession when so few appear willing to respond on such a vital issue? At least the "don't knows" took the trouble to respond. Maybe it's already a non-isssue for most of them.
I am trying to avoid being sceptical but democracy and openness are not always what they appear:
they can be used help carry through hidden agendas. I have had enough experience of "consultation" during my working life to understand its limitations and also its dubious usefulness.
Is this vote the beginning of a softening up process to move towards a pro position on assisted suicide? I think so but only time will tell. In the meantime there is an imprtant prayer need here.
For Catholics and many other Christians this is a non-negotiable issue.