BMA guidance

Responding to patient requests for assisted suicide

Ethical principles for doctors to consider when a patient makes a request to, or makes it known they will, end their life.
Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Friday 17 January 2020
Topics: End of life care ethics
Justice scales article illustration

This guidance addresses situations where patients make an explicit request for your assistance in, or information about, ending their life. It provides practical guidance about how to approach these situations, and sets out the law on assisted dying in each of the four nations.

 

What you'll get from this guide

  • Advice as to what actions might constitute “assisting” or “encouraging” suicide under the law.
  • Practical guidance on how to respond to a patient’s request for assistance in dying whilst remaining within the law.
  • An overview of the law on assisted dying in all four nations.

 

How to use this guide

All forms of assisted dying are illegal in all parts of the UK. We are sometimes contacted by members who have been asked by patients for information, advice or assistance in ending their lives, and who are unclear how to respond.

This guidance will provide you with the information you need to think about when speaking with patients, whilst making sure your actions remain within the limits of the law.

This guidance is split into two parts

Part one

Part one provides guidance to support doctors when faced with an explicit request for assistance to die, by setting out how certain actions might be interpreted by the law and providing practical advice on how to approach conversations with patients

Part two

Part two provides an overview of the law on assisted dying in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

​This guidance will provide you with the key legal and ethical considerations you need to take into account when making a decision, and signposts to other sources of support and information. It is not a set of rules or instructions, or a substitute for careful reflection and discussion. You can seek additional advice on specific dilemmas from the BMA’s medical ethics and human rights department, the GMC, or your medical defence organisation. 

Topics
  • What counts as 'assisting' or 'encouraging' suicide
  • If a patient wishes to travel abroad
  • If a patient requests their medical records to seek assisted dying abroad
  • Responding compassionately and sensitively
  • The law on assisted dying
  • Further reading and useful contacts