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GMC seeks views on assisted suicide guidance

07 Feb 2012

07 February 2012

The General Medical Council (GMC) is seeking views on guidance about the factors its decision makers should consider when dealing with an allegation that a doctor has assisted a person to commit suicide.

Niall Dickson, the Chief Executive of the General Medical Council said:

‘This is a complex and sensitive issue. Nothing in the draft guidance changes the law on assisting suicide; neither should it be taken to imply that the GMC supports or opposes a change in that law. Encouraging or assisting suicide remains a criminal offence and the guidance reflects the law on the subject.

‘We recognise that there are a range of actions which would contravene the Suicide Act – from providing information to a patient to helping someone to travel to Dignitas. Some of these actions may not lead to criminal charges, but may still lead to complaints about a doctor’s fitness to practise.

‘We do think our decision makers will find it useful to have guidance about the factors they should consider when dealing with an allegation that a doctor has assisted a person to commit suicide. Doctors, patients and others may also find it helpful if we set out clearly how we will consider complaints in this area.

‘The consultation is open to anyone who wishes to respond and we are particularly keen to hear from those who are, or have been, affected by these issues.’

When the Investigation Committee or Case Examiners consider an allegation they must decide whether there is a realistic prospect of establishing that a doctor’s fitness to practise is impaired to a degree that justifies action against their registration. The draft guidance sets out some of the things doctors might be alleged to have done in order to encourage or assist a suicide and the factors that should be considered in deciding whether the allegations should be referred to a fitness to practise panel.

The guidance is being produced to ensure that people considering seeking assistance from doctors and doctors themselves understand the likely impact of such assistance on the doctor concerned. A working group of GMC Council members also considered the issues and agreed that it was practical and desirable to have guidance for internal decision makers.

The guidance sets out the:

  • law on assisting suicide;
  • ethical principles which underpin all our guidance to doctors;
  • test that our decision-makers must apply when they consider such allegations;
  • types of cases and the factors that may be relevant to their consideration.

The consultation is open to anyone who wishes to respond and the GMC is particularly keen to hear from people who are affected by the issues it raises.

Those who wish to take part can complete an online questionnaire and further details can be found at

Those wishing to respond are asked to do so by 4 May 2012.

Written by Marie Dancer

Since joining Richard Nelson LLP in 2003, Marie Dancer became a Partner in 2009 before becoming the Managing Partner in 2015. Marie is a highly regarded professional disciplinary lawyer who defends a variety of healthcare and teaching professionals in fitness to practise investigations.

Read more about Marie Dancer.

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