As of July 1, 2010 a new guidance for doctors by the UK General Medical Council “Treatment and care towards the end of life; good practice in decision making” has come into effect.
This guidance replaces the booklet “Withholding and withdrawing life-prolonging treatments (2002). It expands on the guidance “Consent, patients and doctors making decisions together”, which sets out the principles on which good clinical decisions should be based, and provides a framework for good practice when providing treatment and care for patients who are reaching the end of their lives. They comprehensively cover how doctors must approach legally binding Advance Decisions to refuse treatment at the end of life, but fail to address how doctors should respond to terminally ill patients’ requests for help to die, if they are suffering at the end of their lives.
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying said: “By placing the patient at the heart of the decision making process, these guidelines will be a welcome development for greater patient choice at the end of life. They make it clear that not only should doctors respect patient’s end-of-life decisions, but they must adhere to valid Advance Decisions to refuse treatment at the end of life. The guidelines need to go further and advise doctors on how to react to this specific request, with sensitivity and within the constraints of the current law, given that there is no doubt they’ll be asked.”
Dr Ann McPherson, former GP and cancer patient said: “The guidelines need to address the issue of assisted dying. As a GP I have been asked on several occasions to help people to die, and we should be able to talk to patients about their options at the end of life without contravening the law.”
The guidelines can be found here