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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
'Right-to-die' advice drawn up
Diane Pretty
Pretty said the law had taken her rights away
For the first time in its history the General Medical Council (GMC) is preparing guidelines outlining when it believes it is right to withhold life-prolonging treatment.

The regulatory body believes the complex ethical issues should be clarified in the light of the high profile case of Miss B, whom courts last month granted the right to die.

It also comes just a day after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that terminally-ill Diane Pretty did not have the right to die.

The council's advice is expected to suggest that it is not always in the best interests of patients to prolong their lives.

The Miss B case is one where the guidelines would be particularly applicable

General Medical Council

Miss B, who died peacefully in hospital last week, was ruled to be mentally competent and in such cases, the council suggests, the wishes of the patient should be respected - even if death is the result.

The advice will also cover what to do when the patient is not capable of deciding and when it is appropriate to switch off a life support machine.

It is expected to stress that families and those close to the patients should be consulted well in advance.

A GMC spokeswoman said: "The Miss B case is one where the guidelines would be particularly applicable.

Suicide

"We have been working on it for some time now and it will go to council in May for final approval."

European judges dismissed Mrs Pretty's claim that the British government was contravening her human rights by refusing to allow her husband to help her commit suicide.

The ruling marked the end of the legal road for 43-year-old Mrs Pretty, who is in the advanced stages of motor neurone disease and is paralysed from the neck down.

At a news conference in London, Mrs Pretty criticised the decision and said: "The law has taken all my rights away."

Warning

Civil rights groups said the different outcomes in the cases of Mrs Pretty and Miss B, highlighted the need for a major review of UK law.

However, medical ethicist Dr Gillian Craig warned against comparing the two cases.

She told BBC News: "In the case of 'Miss B' she was wanting medical treatment to be stopped and anyone who is in their right mind has every right to have medical treatment stopped.

"Diane Pretty was asking to be killed and that is an entirely different matter."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Karen Allen
"Though one has a right to life, there is no automatic right to die"
Miss B's lawyer Richard Stein
"A framework of safeguards needs to be created"
Chair of GMC working group Prof. David Hatch
"We have been working on this guidance for 18 months"
See also:

29 Apr 02 | Health
Q&A: Right to die
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