The Royal College of Physicians is to poll its 35,000 members and fellows next month on whether or not there should be a change in the law to permit assisted dying.
It will also ask whether its members would be prepared to “participate actively” in assisted dying if the law was changed.
RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard said the survey, which will be emailed out next month, was essential to the college understanding its members’s views.
He added: “The Royal College of Physicians is frequently asked for its stance on this high-profile issue, which may be cited in legal cases and parliamentary debate, so it is essential that we base this on an up-to-date understanding of our members’ and fellows’ views.”
The RCP said it will adopt a neutral position until two-thirds of respondents say that it should be in favour or opposed to a change in the law.
It said this means it will neither support or oppose a change in the law so it can reflect the differing views of its members and fellows in discussions with government and others.
Assisted dying is illegal in UK, with doctors facing a jail term of up to 14 years under the Suicide Act 1961.
There is no specific prohibition of assisting a suicide in Scottish law, but anyone doing so could be charged with murder or culpable homicide, the RCP said.
The college defines assisted dying as “the supply by a doctor of a lethal dose of drugs to a patient who is terminally ill, meets certain criteria that will be defined by law, and requests those drugs in order that they might be used by the person concerned to end their life”.
The new poll will also ask members what they think the RCP’s position on assisted dying should be.
A similar survey by the college five years ago found that a majority of respondents did not support a change in the law. When the RCP asked members in 2014 whether they would personally be prepared to “participate actively” in assisted dying were it legalised, 58.4% said no.
These results were similar to those from a 2006 RCP poll, the college said.
There was no majority in 2014 on the question of what the RCP position should be with 44.4% of respondents saying the RCP should be opposed to assisted dying, 31.0% thought it should be neutral or have no stance and 24.6% opted for the RCP being in favour.