THE GMC has set out new guidelines for investigators considering fitness to practise proceedings against doctors alleged to have helped a person to die.
The result of a three-month consultation, the new guidance makes clear what factors 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.
Investigators should also consider if a doctor has prescribed medication that was not clinically indicated or offered other practical assistance or information/advice about methods of committing suicide.
The GMC has also published advice for doctors on how to handle situations where a patient seeks advice about ending their lives. The advice says: "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."
It combines key principles from existing guidance Good Medical Practice and Treatment and care towards the end of life and will help doctors who are faced with these difficult and emotionally challenging situations.
The number of cases involving allegations relating to assisted suicide is very small. In the last 10 years there have been three cases, one resulting from a conviction for assisting suicide in British Columbia. None of these cases were from a conviction for assisting suicide in the UK.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said: "Encouraging or assisting suicide is a criminal offence and our new guidance reflects the law.
"It will help us to make fair and consistent decisions when investigating an allegation that a doctor has helped a person end their life.
"Patients may also find our guidance helpful in understanding how we consider complaints in this sensitive and complex area."