Doctors should be sensitive to the religious needs of terminally ill patients and their families, according to new guidelines issued by the General Medical Council, the regulatory body for the medical profession.
The guidelines, which take effect on Thursday, say patients may want to discuss what happens to their body after death, in accordance with their beliefs and values. "You must treat the patient's body with dignity and respect," they state. "You should make sure, wherever possible, that the body is handled in line with their personal religious or other beliefs."
"An individual's response will be influenced by factors such as their beliefs, culture, religion and values," the GMC says. "You must show respect for and respond sensitively to the wishes and needs of the bereaved." Doctors should also be aware of the religious needs of bereaved families.
The guidelines also deal with conscientious objections to stopping or continuing treatment in certain cases. "You may withdraw from providing care if your religious, moral or other personal beliefs about providing life-prolonging treatment lead you to object."
Dayan Menachem Gelley, senior dayan of the London Beth Din, said: "These are complex halachic issues and a rabbinic opinion must always be sought."
The Board of Deputies made submissions to the GMC with input from the London Beth Din and the Office of the Chief Rabbi.