The “right to die” considered again: R (AM) v General Medical Council

The background

‘Martin’ is fifty years old and suffers from ‘locked in’ syndrome. He is unable to speak and virtually unable to move and wishes to end his life. In an earlier action against the DPP it was submitted on his behalf that the DPP’s prosecution policy infringed Articles 8 (private and family life) and 10 (expression) ECHR and in any event had not provided the clarification required by Convention law to enable doctors who might be willing to assist him to know whether they were likely to face prosecution or not.

Martin’s case was linked with the action brought by the late Tony Nicklinson (and continued by his widow, Jane), who claimed that section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 violated Article 8. Both actions failed before the Divisional Court. Martin succeeded before the Court of Appeal in his submission that the DPP’s policy lacked sufficient clarity but that was overturned by the Supreme Court: R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice [2014] UKSC 38. The Supreme Court also held by a majority that section 2 was not incompatible with Article 8.

In R (AM) v The General Medical Council [2015] EWHC 2096 (Admin) (which had been stayed pending the outcome of those related proceedings [7]) the issue was the GMC’s guidance to the effect that a doctor who assisted Martin in the way he wanted would risk disciplinary proceedings and, possibly, being struck off the register altogether. Continue reading