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Dignity in Dying welcomes greater clarity for doctors on patient requests for assisted dying

“It is
essential that
doctors feel able to have conversations with dying patients who want to choose
an assisted death about their choice and the alternatives, with the support of
their regulatory bodies?

The General Medical Council (GMC) has today launched a consultation on its
draft guidance for case examiners when considering cases where a doctor is
alleged to have assisted in a suicide. The General Medical Council is
consulting on the guidance until May
2012 and will publish a final version of guidance in the summer.

Dignity in Dying campaigns for a change in the law to allow terminally
ill, mentally competent adults the choice of an assisted death within strict
safeguards; in the absence of such a law we welcome greater clarity for doctors
on the law as it stands. At present it
is difficult for doctors to know definitively how they should respond when a
patient considers choosing an assisted death. The Director of Public Prosecutions’ (DPP) guidelinesindicate that amateur compassionate
assistance to die will be forgiven subject to a number of factors, but there is a specific factor in favour of prosecuting healthcare professionals
who assist. This has led to confusion as to what constitutes assisting and how
the guidelines impact on a
healthcare professional who assists a loved one to die.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying said:

“We hope that the GMC’s guidance will offer much needed clarity to
doctors and their patients on what is currently a grey area of law and practice. At present different medical bodies
interpret the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) guidance on assisted
suicide differently; causing uncertainty for health professionals and
potentially greater suffering for patients at a time when they need their
doctors’ support the most. For example, the Medical Defence Union advises
doctors not to engage in discussion with patients on these issues, whereas the
Royal College of Nursing recommends that nurses should have conversations with
patients who request help to die, to explore their motivations and the

“It is essential that doctors feel able to have conversations with
dying patients who want to choose an assisted death about their choice and the
alternatives, with the support of their regulatory bodies. It is clearly
possible to have an open, non-judgmental discussion with a patient about their
concerns and their reasons for wanting an assisted death, without providing
information about how a patient might achieve
this. These discussions are vital to explore a patient’s concerns and to ensure
that all medical support available has been offered before a patient takes this

“Whilst the draft guidance is helpful, it does not address all the
situations where clarity in needed. It does not, for example, say whether
doctors should advise the relevant authorities if they believe a patient is making plans to be assisted to die,
either in this country or abroad.

“It is clear from our members, and from feedback from other patient organisations, that this
issue is not going away; patients will find a way to have greater control over
the end of their lives, be that travelling abroad to die or attempting to end
their lives at home, with or without help, and in the absence of a safeguarded
assisted dying law, we need to ensure that patients can explore all
alternatives with medical professionals before taking this decision.?

in Dying will respond to the consultation. We hope that the final guidance
produced in the summer will provide welcome clarity for all.


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.

Media Contacts:

For all
Dignity in Dying media enquiries please contactJo Cartwright on 02074797737, 07725433025
or at