Friday, 22 June 2012

Open letter to Sir Graeme Catto, Chairman of Dignity in Dying, over his misleading polling question

I have just made a formal complaint about a polling question which I believe may breach several Rules of the Market Research Society Code Guidelines.

The question was posed by two campaigning organisations, Dignity in Dying (DID) (aka the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) and its offspring Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD), with the aim of moving the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, to a neutral position on ‘assisted dying’. It was framed as part of an orchestrated campaign to legalise assisted suicide in Britain.

My letter to Sir Graeme Catto, Chairman of Dignity in Dying, is pasted below.

The immediate context is that members of DID and HPAD have flooded the BMA annual representative meeting next week with motions calling for the union to adopt a neutral position on ‘assisted dying’ ahead of a new bill being introduced into parliament.

One of these motions is to be debated on Wednesday 27 June and the British Medical Journal is running a campaign highlighting the survey question in an editorial by the journal’s editor in chief, Fiona Godlee.

The first three sentences of a press release the BMJ issued last week to this end read as follows:

‘The BMJ today supports a call for leading UK medical bodies to stop opposing assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults. Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD), wants the BMA and royal colleges to move their position from opposition to neutrality. The call comes as a new poll commissioned by Dignity in Dying found that, of 1000 GPs, 62% support neutrality.

Detail of the question is outlined in a joint press release from DID and HPAD and in a copy of the poll results.

I have already criticised Fiona Godlee on this blog and go into the polling question (and a related one) in much more detail there.

Letter to Sir Graeme Catto

Dear Sir Graeme,

I am writing to inform you that we have lodged an official complaint with the Market Research Society about a polling question which we believe may breach several Rules of the Market Research Society Code Guidelines.

The question below, which was given substantial coverage by the British Medical Journal in an Editorial last week, was posed by Dignity in Dying (DID) and Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD), with the aim of moving the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, to a neutral position on ‘assisted dying’.

A motion calling for the union to adopt a neutral position on ‘assisted dying’ is to be debated at the BMA ARM on Wednesday 27 June.

Detail of the question is outlined in a joint press release from DID and HPAD and in a copy of the poll results.

The poll was conducted by medeConnect Healthcare Insight (the research arm of Doctors.Net.UK) between 16 and 22 May 2012 who asked 1004 GPs an online question as follows:

‘Opinion polls indicate that doctors are divided on the issue of assisted dying for the terminally ill, with approximately 60% opposed to change. Do you agree or disagree that medical bodies (RCGP, BMA) should adopt a position of studied neutrality* on the issue of assisted dying for terminally ill, competent adults.*A position of studied neutrality indicates that a medical organisation is neither supportive of, nor opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying. A neutral position recognises and respects the diversity of personal and religious views of its members and their patients, and encourages open discussion.’

To this 12% voted ‘strongly agree’, 50% ‘agree’, 7% ‘don’t know’, 21% ‘disagree’ and 11% ‘strongly disagree’. 12% plus 50% equals 62%.

In our view this is contrary to Rule B14 of the MRS Code which states ‘Members must take reasonable steps to ensure all of the following:

•‘that Respondents are not led to a particular view’
•‘that responses are capable of being interpreted in an unambiguous way’

Kind regards

Peter

5 comments:

  1. I don't get what you are complaining about, other than you don't like the outcome which suggests 62% of Doctors agree that a stance of neutrality is the right one to take.

    Medical bodies should be neutral with regards to laws, suggesting otherwise is in contravention of several points of the Declaration of Geneva.

    I am willing to expand on the above if you aren't sure what I mean.

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    1. Newsengland - to refer to the Declaration of Geneva in this context is a bit stark:
      this Declaration states: 'I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception,...'

      imho this would certainly discourage euthanasia.

      The more recent statement from the World Medical Association in their statement on euthanasia is even clearer:

      'Euthanasia, that is the act of deliberately ending the life of a patient, even at the patient’s own request or at the request of close relatives, is unethical.'

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  2. The BMA is not neutral on anything and should certainly not be neutral on whether or not doctors should be able to kill their patients.

    This lobby group is pushing for neutrality because they know they can't win a simple majority for a change in the law.

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    1. But you are complaining about a question that is very easy to understand, more so for a doctor I would imagine.

      I am not a doctor and I understood it on my first read through, although admittedly I did read it twice to make sure there wasn't some catch I was missing (because after reading your comments I expected there to be a catch/trick)

      What you seem to be upset about is that the majority of your fellow doctors (in this survey at least) have a differing view from your own in fact I would say from that survey 89% have a view different to yours which I am guessing would be in strong disagreement with the proposal (and 88% have a differing view from mine) However, I don't think the figures are necessarily indicative of Doctors overall and I was surprised that 7% didn't have an opinion.

      With regard to your comments about it being a lobby group: Lobby groups have been around for a long time and you are a spokesperson for a lobby group that takes the opposing stance to this one - if the tables were turned you would be doing the exact same thing that they are.

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    2. Read my linked post which gives more detail on the question and its deficiencies.

      HPAD has 520 members and represents less than 0.25% of doctors.

      In most opinion polls about 65% of doctors are opposed to a change in the law to allow euthanasia or assisted suicide and the BMA has been opposed for all but one year in its history.

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