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New assisted suicide guidelines 'put GPs at greater risk of prosecution'

By Gareth Iacobucci

GPs risk the threat of prosecution under new rules on assisted suicide by simply providing information to patients on their medical records, legal experts have warned.

Medical defence bodies have outlined their fears after new guidelines were issued, including a new section arguing in favour of the prosecution of doctors, which was not included in the original proposals.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) said it had ‘grave concerns' about how the new policy would be applied to doctors, while the Medical Protection Society (MPS) said the policy undoubtedly placed GPs ‘in a much more risky position than before'.

MDU solicitior Ian Barker said: ‘Doctors who are usually legally required to provide reports and/or medical records when requested to do so by patients may find themselves in some difficulty when the patient who is requesting them is contemplating assisted suicide.'

‘The MDU's advice to its members remains that doctors approached by patients for advice about suicide should not engage in discussion which assists the patient to that end. Members who are faced with requests for help from patients, including for example the provision of medical reports, should contact us for advice.'

Dr Nick Clements, head of medical services (Leeds) at the MPS, said: ‘While we recognise that the law on assisted suicide has not changed, the factors for and against prosecution send a clear signal that the actions of healthcare professionals will be carefully scrutinised and, in our view, may well set a lower threshold for bringing prosecution against them.'

‘We are advising GPs who have even the slightest suspicion that their patient may be planning an assisted suicide to proceed with extreme caution and not to comply with requests for medical or travel reports in these cases.'

Legal experts have warned that the new guidelines on assisted suicide put GPs at greater risk of prosecution Legal experts have warned that the new guidelines on assisted suicide put GPs at greater risk of prosecution

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