Readers may recall our briefing note on the cases of Nicklinson and Martin.

The GMC published two documents relating to Assisted Suicide on 31 January 2013.

When a Patient Seeks Advice or Information About Assistance To Die is a two-page document. Paragraph 6 provides that doctors should:

  • Be prepared to listen and to discuss the reasons for the patient’s request
  • Limit any advice or information about suicide to an explanation that it is a criminal offence to encourage or assist a person to commit or attempt suicide
  • Be respectful and compassionate and continue to provide appropriate care for the patient
  • Explore the patient’s understanding of their current condition and care plan
  • Assess whether the patient has any unmet palliative care needs, including pain and symptom management, psychological, social or spiritual support

The second document is Guidance for the Investigation Committee and case examiners when considering allegations about a doctor’s involvement in encouraging or assisting suicide.

It states, in particular, that the following will not normally give rise to impaired fitness to practice:

  • Providing advice or information limited to the doctor’s understanding of the law relating to encouraging or assisting suicide
  • Providing access to a patient’s records where a subject access request has been made in accordance with the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998
  • Providing information or evidence in the context of legal proceedings relating to encouraging or assisting suicide

On the same date, news came of Lord Falconer launching a Private Members Bill seeking to allow terminally ill patients, with less than one year to live, to seek the help of friends or family to die without leaving them open to prosecution. It is to be tabled in summer 2013.