Intended for healthcare professionals


Doctors and assisted suicide

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 10 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1394
  1. John Coggon, British Academy postdoctoral fellow
  1. 1Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, Institute for Science, Ethics, and Innovation, School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL
  1. john.coggon{at}

    New policy fulfils a legal requirement, but the implications are unclear

    After the litigation relating to Debbie Purdy,1 a woman with multiple sclerosis who successfully argued for the right to know the grounds on which a decision to prosecute someone for assisting a suicide is made, the director of public prosecutions published guidance this February on the prosecution policy relating to charges brought under the Suicide Act 1961 in England and Wales.2 The policy, which lists factors for and against prosecution, was devised after a public consultation exercise, where almost 5000 respondents commented on the interim guidance published in September 2009.3 4 As expected, the director of public prosecutions made changes in the final policy.5

    What may have come as a surprise is the apparently heightened risk of prosecution that doctors now face under the Suicide Act.6 The guidance states that there will be, prima facie, a greater public interest in prosecuting a suspect who assists or encourages a suicide when “acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor . . . [when] the victim was in his or her care.”2 The director of public prosecutions suggests that the likelihood of prosecutions remains unaffected,7 but there may be some scepticism about this, especially among specific groups explicitly noted in the guidance. If after the public consultation the director of …

    View Full Text

    Log in

    Log in through your institution


    * For online subscription