Intended for healthcare professionals


Guidelines are needed if drug testing of those arrested by the police becomes compulsory

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 01 January 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:56
  1. A R W Forrest, professor of forensic toxicology (r.forrest{at}
  1. Department of Forensic Pathology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S3 7ES

    EDITOR—The prime minister's announcement at the last Labour Party conference that the government proposes to introduce compulsory drug and DNA testing for people arrested for indictable offences before they have been convicted will raise some important ethical issues for healthcare professionals if it does eventually become law.1 As pointed out in the Economist,2 the upshot of compulsory DNA testing might be that every alleged shoplifter could be held down forcibly while a mouth swab is taken.2 Collecting sweat for a drug test by wiping the forehead of a restrained and resisting subject with a swab would be no more dignified.

    The BMA has issued helpful guidelines for police surgeons who have been asked to examine people in police custody when consent for such examination is not forthcoming.3 I hope that similar guidelines will be produced for medical practitioners who may be asked to participate in collecting body fluids for drug testing from arrested people without their consent and in analysing, interpreting, and using the results in samples obtained in this way.


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