A man with locked-in syndrome has failed in his bid to change guidelines that prevent doctors from helping a patient to commit suicide.
The 50-year-old, known only as Martin, had argued that General Medical Council (GMC) guidance interfered with his freedom of expression.
However, judges at the High Court ruled that the GMC guidance is lawful.
Lord Justice Elias and Mr Justice Collins said the GMC is entitled to base its guidance on the illegality of aiding and abetting a suicide in the UK.
The guidance states: “Where patients raise the issue of assisting suicide, or ask for information that might encourage or assist them in ending their lives, respect for a patient’s autonomy cannot justify illegal action.
“Doctors should be prepared to listen and to discuss the reasons for the patient’s request but they must not actively encourage or assist the patient as this would be a contravention of the law.”
Representing Martin, Philip Havers QC claimed that the advice interfered with his right to a private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Havers also argued that the GMC should take a more “compassionate” approach when dealing with those who are seeking assisted suicide, in line with guidance issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Recent changes to the DPP’s policy suggest that those who assist in the suicide of a person who has a “clear and settled intention” to commit suicide, and who act out of ‘compassion’, are unlikely to be prosecuted.
In June last year, lawyers acting for Martin argued that the DPP’s guidelines are insufficiently clear as to whether someone who is not a close friend or relative would be charged if they helped him to kill himself. That action was also unsuccessful.
Martin wanted to be legally helped to travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end his life.
Following this week’s ruling, Martin’s solicitor Rosa Curling said: “We have advised our client to appeal today’s judgment on the current GMC guidance and we are hopeful that the Court of Appeal will reach a different decision in due course.”