GMC looks at guidance on assisted suicide
Thursday, 15 December 2011
The General Medical Council is producing new guidance on dealing with allegations of a doctor’s involvement in assisted suicide. The GMC guidance will help case examiners and the investigation committee to decide what action needs to be taken – if any – against the accused doctor.
The Council emphasised that its guidance in no way changes the legal position on assisted suicide; nor does it deal with euthanasia. But it said that more clarity was needed on how doctors should respond to a patients’ request for advice or support regarding ending their life.
A working group of GMC members developed draft guidance for Fitness to Practise decision makers – Making decisions on cases at the end of the investigation stage: Guidance for case examiners and the investigation committee. The Council considered this yesterday, and public consultation will begin early next year.
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “The issue of assisted suicide is complex and sensitive. We already have clear guidance for doctors that they must always act within the law and assisting or encouraging suicide remains a criminal offence. This guidance will not in any way change the legal position for doctors. It is not our role to take a position on whether or not the law should be changed; that is a matter for the relevant legislature.
“We recognise however that there are a range of actions which could be considered as assisting in a suicide, such as providing information to a patient about suicide or providing practical assistance for someone to travel to a clinic such as Dignitas. Some of these actions may not lead to criminal charges but may still lead to complaints to us about a doctor’s fitness to practise.
“We therefore think our decision makers will find it useful to have guidance about the factors they should consider when dealing with an allegation that a doctor has assisted a person to commit suicide. Doctors, patients and others may also find it helpful if we set out clearly how we will consider complaints in this area.”