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Royal College of Nursing excludes four fifths of nurses who responded to its consultation on assisted dying (23 April)

23 April 2006

Royal College of Nursing excludes four fifths of nurses who responded to its consultation on assisted dying

It has emerged that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) excluded four fifths of the nurses who responded to its consultation on assisted dying. The excluded nurses all disagreed with the RCN’s policy. The news comes during its annual congress.

The RCN has based its opposition to the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill on just one fifth of the 5084 responses it received to its consultation.

Dignity in Dying can today reveal that the RCN excluded 4071 responses from nurses who all supported the Bill. The RCN’s opposition to the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill therefore represents fewer than 20% of responses from nurses.

An unknown proportion of the remaining 1013 responses were solicited by the RCN from its Forums, which have block votes.

The RCN’s Deputy President, Maura Buchanan, who has strong personal views against assisted dying, has repeatedly ignored requests for details of the number of responses.

Dignity in Dying’s Chief ExecutiveDeborah Annetts, said,

“The RCN told Parliament, the public and its own members that 70% of nurses agree with its views about assisted dying. Twenty months later it finally emerges that if it had included all the responses it received, 86% of nurses would disagree with it.

“I understand that the RCN decided to exclude these responses from nurses who had given their names and address because they felt it would be too onerous to check these nurses were members of the RCN. This is hardly a professional way to go about consulting one’s members. Many nurses will be disappointed and angry that their views are being shut out by a body they pay to represent them professionally.

“The RCN’s Deputy President Maura Buchanan told the House of Lords 70% of nurses support its position. Her evidence to Parliament now looks based on very shaky ground.”

The RCN’s position has been cited in briefings by religious groups to members of the House of Lords. The individual nurses who responded have not been informed that their views were excluded.



  1. Nurses4Patient Choice, co-ordinated by Cleone Gardner, a retired nurse from Herts collected 2,600 responses in favour of changing the law. These included names, addresses and comments.
  2. The Human Rights Campaign received 1471 postcards supporting the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. This was co-ordinated by former nurse Jane MacDonald (who suffers from MS) via an insert in Nursing Times. These included names and addresses for nurses responding so that members could be checked.
  3. The RCN wrote to the HRC and N4PC on 19 July 2004 excluding the 4071 responses on the basis that it was not prepared to check whether these were from members or not.??It did not contact any of the individual nurses, who remain totally unaware that their views were excluded.
  4. The RCN stated in a letter dated 10 March that it received 1013 responses.
  5. Note on the maths. RCN says 70% of 1013 responses are supportive. This means 30% (304 responses) added to 4071, is 4375, which is 86% of the total 5084 responses received by the RCN.
  6. This is what the RCN said unprompted about their consultation to the House of Lords in oral evidence:”If we were to say what was the balance of opinion, we would say that approximately 70 per cent of our members were against the Bill and 30 per cent for the Bill.”
  7. Were the Lords misled? Lord McKay, Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, told the RCN during its oral evidence,”What you were asked to do was to ensure your presentation included the description of the extent to which the views expressed were the views of the body as a whole and to what extent there was general dissent; and you have done that extremely clearly in my view.”