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End of life advice for medics

9th March 2009

The General Medical Council is to release an update to its guidance to doctors about how they should decide treatment for patients' palliative care.

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The GMC has said medics need to think about "any harm caused" if they do not obey patients' desires regarding the withdrawal of feeding tubes or hydration.

Draft guidance advises that doctors need to discuss treatment options with their patients in advance. 

The British Medical Association has welcomed any "additional clarification" on the subject.

The updated advice will be released for consultation and expands on information gathered by research on how medical staff should deal with palliative care.

Patients are legally able to decline treatment, although the subject of whether they can object to being given artificial nutrition has been a controversial one.

The GMC advice said that sometimes the use of artificial nutrition in palliative care can cause "unnecessary suffering".

The updated advice says doctors "must consider any harm that might be caused" in disregarding a patient's wishes.

Jane O'Brien, GMC assistant director, said: "Clinicians still have the final say on 'best interests', but we are asking them to give greater weight to patients' wishes in a more formal sense than we have before."

"Those who have strong feelings about how they want themselves or their loved ones to be treated should expect those feelings to be considered."

 

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