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GMC clarifies position on assisted dying

The GMC has told GPs to limit the information it gives to suicidal patients to an explanation that it is a criminal offence for them to encourage a person to commit suicide.

In new guidance issued this week, the regulator clarified its position on assisted suicide. It has issued a note for GPs to check through when faced with a patient asking for help to commit suicide.

It also makes clear what factors will be considered before bringing a fitness-to-practise hearing against a doctor who is under suspicion of helping a patient to die. 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; and the intensity of encouragement or assistance.

The new guidance is the result of a three month consultation process, which came about as a response to the case of a disabled man, known as ‘AM’, who last year took legal action against the GMC, the director of Public Prosecutions, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

He argued none of the organisations were sufficiently clear about the criteria they would use to assess whether to bring a prosecution or take action on a health professional’s registration if they were to help him to understand the options he had to end his life.

Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said: ‘Where patients raise the issue of assisted suicide, or ask for information that might encourage or assist them in ending their lives, GPs should explain that they cannot do so because providing this information would mean breaking the criminal law.’

‘It will help to make a fair and consistent decision when investigation allegations that a GP has helped a patient end their life.

‘Patients may also find our guidance helpful in understanding how we consider complains in this sensitive and complex area.’