To die or not to die could soon become the prerogative of the terminally ill patients in the UK to decide for themselves. Any doctors who ignores their wishes could risk being struck off the rolls.
New guidelines for medical staff say doctors should discuss all options with patients and relatives over 'end of life' care.
End of life care includes refusing treatment for terminally ill patients and turning off life support machines.
The General Medical Council (GMC) advice will be published this month and applies to 150,000 practising doctors. It covers all life-threatening conditions including brain damage.
Interestingly the document does not cover assisted suicide or actively helping a patient to die but it does raise issues about the right of patients to refuse treatment.
The GMC said it expected doctors to take all 'reasonable steps' to consider a patient's wishes in delicate cases. This includes withdrawing life support for patients unlikely to recover.
Jane O'Brien, the GMC's assistant director of standards and ethics, 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.'
Doctors' leaders today said they would back the new guidance and that end of life care was 'a grey area'.
Experts today said the guidance from the General Medical Council will reignite the 'right to die' debate.