MPS welcomes GMC guidance on assisted suicide but calls for greater clarity

04 May 2012

The Medical Protection Society welcomes the General Medical Council’s guidance for its Investigation Committee and case examiners when considering allegations about a doctor’s involvement in assisted suicide, but calls for greater clarity.

Assisted suicide is a complex issue and doctors need clarity, certainty and consistency on their professional and legal responsibilities, when placed in these difficult and emotionally charged situations.

It is in the patients’ interests to know what they can expect from their doctor; therefore doctors need to be given clarity about how the law applies to their role in these difficult situations

Dr Stephanie Bown, Director of Policy and Communications at MPS says: “Doctors want to be able to respond to the needs of patients and families concerned about end of life issues in a sensitive and confidential way. At present, doctors may feel they have to refuse to provide advice or medical reports to patients in a vulnerable position because of the risk of criminal prosecution.

“They may also feel under pressure to disclose patient information to the police or other authorities, which could undermine the quality of the doctor-patient relationship at a time when patients are most in need.

“It is in the patients’ interests to know what they can expect from their doctor; therefore doctors need to be given clarity about how the law applies to their role in these difficult situations.

“Doctors currently face a dilemma in wanting to provide advice and support for their patients versus their uncertainty as to what extent they can do that. They want to work within the law whilst providing a high standard of care for their patients.

“MPS wants the guidance for its case examiners and Investigative Committee to be clear, unambiguous and accompanied by practical guidelines that will make clear what is expected of the doctor when faced with issues of assisted suicide.

We encourage the GMC to carefully monitor this issue and update its guidance as and when specific cases are examined

“This is an evolving issue so although we welcome the guidance, we encourage the GMC to carefully monitor this issue and update its guidance as and when specific cases are examined.”

Points raised in MPS’s response to the GMC’s consultation:

  • More detail on how the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) guidance affects doctors
  • There should be guidance on confidentiality as this becomes extremely important when a doctor encounters a potential assisted suicide
  • It may be discriminatory to disabled people, and as such would benefit from waiting for the outcome of the Nicklinson case
  • The guidance sends a clear signal to doctors but as this is an evolving issue it should be developed as cases are examined by the GMC.

To view MPS’s response to the GMC’s consultation on assisted suicide, which closes today, click here.

More information

For further information please contact Kim Watson, Press Officer at MPS on +44 207 399 1409 or email kim.watson@mps.org.uk.

Notes to editors

MPS issued a press release following the publication of the DPP’s Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide, in 2010. To view please click here.

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