Amara Nwosu

MBCHB MRCP PhD

Patients wanting advice on ending their lives

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Source: GMC

New GMC guidance will help doctors to act within the law when a patient asks for advice on how to end their life.

The law in the UK is clear: providing information that could encourage or help someone to kill themselves is a criminal offence. However, doctors must listen to their patients, treat them with respect and compassion, and be prepared to discuss the patient’s reasons for wanting to end their life. This can be a  difficult balance to achieve. 

The new guidance When a patient seeks advice or information about assistance to die combines key principles from our existing guidance Good Medical Practice and Treatment and care towards the end of life. 

We hope that it will support doctors faced with important but difficult conversations with patients and ensure they do not put themselves at risk of unethical or illegal behaviour. 

At the same time, we have published guidance for our staff who deal with complaints about doctors. This will help them assess whether a doctor has acted in accordance with our guidance and the law. 

In the past 10 years there have been only three fitness to practise linked to assisting suicide, one resulting from a conviction for assisting suicide in Canada. None of them arose from a conviction for assisting suicide in the UK.

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