New guidance on how the General Medical Council (GMC) deals with complaints against doctors who may have helped patients commit suicide has been published.
It also makes clear the factors that need to be considered in deciding whether a doctor should be disciplined. These include:
- If the doctor knew or should have reasonably known that their actions would encourage or assist suicide
- If a doctor had prescribed medication that was not clinically indicated or other practical assistance or information or advice about methods of committing suicide
- The context and nature of support or information sought
- The intensity of encouragement or assistance
The guidance will help the GMC decide if a doctor should face a fitness to practise hearing if they are alleged to have helped a person to die.
“Where patients raise the issue of assisted suicide, or ask for information that might encourage or assist them in ending their lives, doctors should explain that they cannot do so because providing this information would mean breaking the criminal law,” the guidance recommends.
The number of cases involving allegations relating to assisted suicide is very small. In the last 10 years there have been three cases in the UK.