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Ethics briefings
  1. Veronica English,
  2. Rebecca Mussell,
  3. Julian Sheather,
  4. Ann Sommerville
  1. BMA Ethics Department;

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    GMC reviews

    In late 2005, the General Medical Council (GMC) carried out several consultations. In the review of procedures for sick doctors were proposals to strengthen powers to monitor doctors and plans to introduce unannounced drug testing of doctors whose behaviour raised concerns.1 The GMC consultation on the strategic options for undergraduate medical education considered how education is changing in the light of social and clinical demands. It focused, in part, on developing guidance on medical students’ health and conduct and a proposed national registration system for medical students.2 The most significant consultation in terms of medical ethics was the GMC’s review of Good Medical Practice – its main ethical guidance for doctors.3 The GMC’s aim was to re-define practical and attainable modern standards. A proposed draft emphasised partnership in the doctor-patient relationship, human rights, and doctors’ obligations and responsibilities towards children—all of which are issues increasingly significant in medicine. The consultation also opened up discussion on how far the GMC should be concerned about doctors’ behaviour in their private lives. Should it be concerned, for example, about clinically successful consultants being obsessed with hardcore pornography or having affairs with very young women?4 Questions were also posed about how far doctors can exercise a conscientious objection. Should they be able to refuse to refer pregnant women for abortions because they themselves consider it wrong?5 Other potentially contentious issues questioned the extent to which doctors have rights to protect themselves against risks from patients. British Medical Association (BMA) policy, dating from the era when HIV first began to be diagnosed, stated that it is unethical to withhold treatment solely because a patient’s condition poses risks to doctors’ health. At the time it was adopted, this policy was intended to be anti-discriminatory as HIV patients were already stigmatised. Doctors …

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