“The guidance emphasises the importance of doctors listening and discussing assisted dying requests with their patients, within the bounds of the law. These conversations are crucial if we are to protect patients taking these decisions now, without a safeguarded assisted dying law in the UK”
The General Medical Council (GMC) has today issued guidance for its decision-makers when dealing with allegations of doctors encouraging or assisting suicide, and for doctors on dealing with patient requests for help to die. This guidance will help doctors who are dealing with these issues day to day.
The guidance for case examiners makes clear that: providing advice or information on the law relating to encouraging or assisting suicide, providing access to a patient’s records for the purposes of choosing an assisted death abroad, and providing information about legal proceedings relating to encouraging or assisting suicide are unlikely to result in an investigation about fitness to practice. The Guidance for doctors focusses on the doctor listening to the patient’s concerns and being respectful and compassionate to their patient’s views and feelings, whilst also exploring why the patient might be making such a request. It also makes clear that nothing in the guidance prevents doctors from prescribing medicines or treatment to alleviate pain or other distressing symptoms, as per their duty of care.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying said:
“This guidance is welcome and offers some much needed clarity to doctors on what they can provide when a patient asks for help to die, without fear of repercussions. This guidance clarifies, for the first time that doctors are legally allowed to provide their patients with their medical records if they ask for them in order to be able to choose an assisted death abroad. However, there are still areas of confusion for doctors and other healthcare professionals in relation to assisted suicide, as a result of the current law and policy.
“Nevertheless, this guidance emphasises the importance of doctors listening and discussing assisted dying requests with their patients, within the bounds of the law. These conversations are crucial if we are to protect patients taking these decisions now, without a safeguarded assisted dying law in the UK.
“Ultimately the law will change in the UK to allow dying adults the choice of an assisted death, but in the mean time it is key for the doctor patient relationship, and the protection of dying adults, that patients feel able to raise their concerns and wishes with their doctors, and this guidance will help them feel safe to do so.”
Professor Ray Tallis, Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying said:
“This guidance has been a long time coming and I welcome the emphasis on good communication between doctor and patient, and the confirmation that doctors can provide patients with their medical records in order that they can be assisted to die in Switzerland, without fear of a question of impaired fitness to practice.
“Patients wanting to have more control over how and when they die is an issue which is becoming a matter of increasing concern as medical technology advances and more people become aware of their rights as patients. This guidance is a good start, but we must continue to have the conversation about whether patients should be allowed to have more control over the time and manner of their deaths, and how the medical profession can support patients in having the best death possible for them, without the need to travel to Switzerland for assistance to die.”
Notes to editor:
About Dignity in Dying:
- Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.
- Dignity in Dying has over 25,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
About the GMC guidance:
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