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Guidance relating to assisting suicide

31 January 2013

The General Medical Council has published new guidance for:

  • the Investigation Committee and case examiners (decision-makers) to use when they are considering allegations about a doctor’s fitness to practise that relate to encouraging or assisting suicide
  • doctors to use when a patient seeks advice about ending their lives

Both pieces of guidance come into effect today.

Guidance for the Investigation Committee and case examiners to use when they are considering allegations about a doctor’s fitness to practise that relate to encouraging or assisting suicide.

This guidance is designed to help our decision-makers consider (fairly and consistently) allegations about doctors encouraging or assisting suicide. The guidance may also be helpful to doctors, patients and others as it sets out clearly how we will consider complaints in this area.

This is an important and highly sensitive issue. Encouraging or assisting suicide remains a criminal offence and this guidance reflects the law on this subject.

The guidance sets out the:

  • ethical principles which underpin all our guidance to doctors
  • test that our decision-makers must apply when they consider such allegations
  • types of cases and the factors that may be relevant in reaching a decision.

When a patient seeks advice or information about assistance to die

When we consulted on guidance for decision-makers in 2012 a number of doctors asked how they should respond to patients who asked for advice or help in ending their lives. Doctors were concerned that patients should not feel abandoned by them at this most difficult time – but were concerned that discussions could lead to them breaking the law.

This short explanatory guidance has been written in response to this concern. It provides advice on how the principles in Good Medical Practice and Treatment and care towards the end of life: good practice in decision making apply when patients who are reaching the end of their life, or who have severe disabilities, seek help or advice about ending their lives.

Read the guidance When a patient seeks advice or information about assistance to die (pdf).

For further information

Read our:

  • press release

Contact us

Please call the Standards and Ethics Team on 020 7189 5404 or email us at standards@gmc-uk.org to request any further information.