The GMC consulted in 2012 on when and to what degree a doctor should be disciplined where they have directly or peripherally assisted a person to commit suicide at home or abroad.
It is illegal in the UK for a doctor to assist someone to die, whether it is a family member or one of their patients. However, it is recognised that doctors will, on occasions, appear before the criminal courts and before the GMC who have assisted in a suicide (whether in a private setting (where it was a family member), or a public setting (such as a hospital or in the primary care community)). There is a recognition that there is spectrum of culpability and that not all acts and omissions of a doctor will carry the same public opprobrium.
The GMC’s remit is to protect the public and uphold confidence in the profession. As a consequence, the GMC committees who discipline doctors might take a view that a doctor, though misguided in their conduct for having in some way assisted in a suicide, is not unfit to practice. While other cases may necessarily lead to a doctor being struck off.
The police and the criminal courts may also interview, charge and prosecute a doctor who has failed to follow the appropriate polices and codes of practice that are laid down. Our lawyers can advise doctors on clinical care matters concerning the criminal law, and we regularly advise and represent doctors where things have gone wrong at work. We can also advise doctors where they are concerned about an end of life legal matter in their workplace, with which they are unhappy.
See the GMC published guidance for Guidance for FTP Decision Makers in Assisting Suicide
View also our End of Life Care Legal Resources and Guidance page
View also the Director of Public Prosecution’s Guidelines (External Link)
Doctors Defence Service represents and advises doctors about GMC law (including the new MPTS law) and medical law (and criminal law), including legal advice on the lawfulness of end of life treatments and palliative care. Use our Contact Form or call us in confidence on: 0800 10 88 739