GMC guidance on providing assistance to patients intending to end their lives was not contrary to ECHR


Re: R (AM) v General Medical Council [2015] EWHC 2096 (Admin)

The claimant, who suffers from ‘locked in’ syndrome, challenged the General Medical Council’s guidance on doctors providing compassionate assistance to those who intend to end their lives. The guidance indicates that doctors may face disciplinary sanctions if they assist. The claimant argued that the guidance amounted to a disincentive for doctors to provide him with necessary medical reports for the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, and advice on alternative options. He alleged that this infringed his ECHR, art 8 right to end his life at a time and in the manner of his choosing and his art 10 right to receive information.

The Court dismissed the claimant’s judicial review application. It had already been held by the ECtHR that a blanket prohibition on assisted suicide was not incompatible with art 8, so the guidance itself could not be disproportionate, and the art 10 approach was the same. The Court also denied that it was unreasonable for the GMC to have a different policy to the DPP on this issue.

The judgment does clarify the policy of the DPP in this area, confirming that those who provide compassionate assistance (including healthcare professionals without previous involvement) will not normally be prosecuted when the individual had a clear and settled intention to end his or her life and there was no persuasion involved.

Adam Sandell was involved in this case.