My colleague, Dr Ben Harris, who featured in a Manx Independent article (January 5) with my other colleague, Dr Baker, in January this year, was on Manx Radio again advocating against the Assisted Dying Bill introduced by yet another former colleague, Dr Allinson.
I greatly respect Dr Harris, but am concerned about his misleading portrayal of medical opinion on the matter; as well as about what I perceive as emotive and ideological scaremongering in place of sober, factual argument.
As the chairman of the Isle of Man Medical Society, Dr Harris has spoken of the ‘overwhelming’ opposition of local medics to the Bill.
Today again he asserted that ‘the vast majority of doctors are opposed to assisted dying’ and that both the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of GPs were actively opposed to assisted dying. He then went on to make the baseless claim that legalising assisted dying would somehow further exacerbate GP recruitment to the island.
In fact, the last time local medics were surveyed on this issue was in 2004. At the time, about 85% of local doctors were not prepared to participate in assisted dying, though this didn’t necessarily mean that they were opposed to it.
It is fair to say that a lot has changed since 2004.
The Royal College of GPs’ current position against assisted dying is, in fact, predicated on a 2020 survey of its membership, which showed 47% opposed; 40% for; and 13% neutral or abstaining.
The Royal College of Physicians held a similar exercise in 2019, which showed 43.4% opposed; 31.6% for; and 25% neutral.
On this basis, the current stance of the RCP is, in fact, neutral.
Last, but not least, the British Medical Association, which the Isle of Man Medical Society is essentially a branch of, changed its own position on this matter to neutral in September 2021.
In summary, there is no ‘overwhelming opposition’ to assisted dying among members of the medical profession.
Neither are the Royal Colleges and the BMA ‘actively opposed’ to a change in the law.
Nor is Dr Harris and some other colleagues speaking on behalf of local doctors, for there is no consensus on this matter.
Regardless of the merits or demerits of assisted dying, the fact that these notions are portrayed unchallenged and unopposed, in your pages and on local public radio, is an affront to journalism and a disservice to your audience.
Dr Joannis Vamvakopoulos
Consultant endocrinologist and internist
Share your views with our readers.
Write to: Opinions, Isle of Man Examiner and Manx Independent, 18 Finch Road, Douglas, IM1 2PT or email:
Don’t forget to include your name, FULL home address and a daytime phone number even if you want to be anonymous in print.
Obviously, we need to be able to verify the identity of everyone whose letter we publish.
We don’t print phone numbers or full addresses and respect anonymity if the author requests it.
This letter was first published in the Manx Independent of April 13.