Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 74(2) May 2024


GMC clears Catholic doctor investigated for ‘trying to save patient’s life’

Rev Fr Professor PullicinoIn February the General Medical Council dismissed the case against the Reverend Prof Patrick Pulllicino. Back in lockdown times Prof Pullicino had given an opinion on RS. RS was a man who had who had suffered a hypoxic bran injury after a cardiac arrest in December 2020. Clinicians treating him at a Plymouth Hospital believed that he would not recover and obtained authorisation from the Court of Protection to withdraw food and fluid from him. He would then die. Otherwise he would spend the rest of his life in a minimally conscious state.

Prof Pullicino was investigated by the GMC after a complaint by Celia Kitzinger. Celia is a Professor of Conversation Analysis, Gender and Sexuality in the Department of Sociology at the University of York. She advocates for Advance Refusals and has publicly supported the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration till death occurs in those with brain injuries.

The Rev Prof Pullicino, was supported by the Christian Legal Centre. He became involved because RS‘s mother wanted to instruct Fr Pullicino. But Mr Justice Cohen strongly criticised Fr Pullicino’s view that further tests were needed to establish a confident prognosis.

A further opinion from a Polish neurosurgeon was also rejected by the court. Food and fluids were withdrawn in January 2021 and RS died.

Ms Kitzinger, accused Prof Pullicino of bias for trying to save a patient’s life and speculated that he “may have deliberately misdiagnosed the patient in the hope of saving his life” after he had given urgent assistance on Christmas Day, during lockdown, to a family facing tragedy. In a written complaint to the GMC, Kitzinger accused Dr Pullicino of bias because he was a Catholic and had expressed “pro-life values” in the courtroom.

In May 2021 the GMC notified Dr Pullicino that it had commenced an investigation into his fitness to practise based solely on Ms Kitzinger’s complaint.

The GMC ruled as follows.

“Dr Pullicino is an experienced Consultant Neurologist, with specialist registration and a licence to practise, and we have no evidence to suggest that he lacks competence to assess a patient’s level of consciousness.”

They went on to say that “We do not have evidence to support an allegation that [his medical opinion] was inaccurate.”

And “We conclude that there is no realistic prospect of proving these allegations and they are concluded with no action.”

In regards to Dr Pullicino’s beliefs they ruled: “No evidence was adduced to support the allegation that Dr Pullicino’s religious faith or personal be- liefs affected his opinion on Patient RS.”

Fr Pullicino told the Catholic Herald that: “I am relieved and pleased that the GMC has refused to take any further action against me.”

“In an emergency situation, I was ambushed in the courtroom and then targeted by a militant ‘right to die’ campaigner with an agenda to attack, discredit and caricature my medical opinion.

“From the beginning it was a clear discriminatory attack on the medical opinion I gave because I am a Catholic priest and believe medical professionals should do everything possible to save another human’s life.

“The GMC should never have allowed an investigation to proceed against me, which was so clearly targeted against and based on my religious beliefs. I am concerned that it has taken so long for me to be vindicated and cleared.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “The irony should not escape us that this is a doctor under investigation for actually trying to save a life”.

“In a world where truth is becoming stranger than fiction, we are now seeing doctors who work to save lives becoming the ones investigated by the GMC. This tells us something about the culture of the GMC.”

“We are delighted that Dr Pullicino has been cleared, but it is deeply disturbing that this case got this far.”

“The case highlights the growing pressure on medical professionals not to break ranks with their colleagues who had taken a controversial decision to end a patient’s life. In sensitive end- of-life cases, dissenting medical experts risk severe criticism by courts and activists, leading to protracted and stressful investigations by profes- sional regulators.”

So there we have it. Prof Pullicino was investigated by the GMC after an accusation that he was a Catholic and had biased prolife views. He was concerned was that the RS’ conscious level may have been higher than previously stated to the court in evidence and that there may therefore have been a better prognosis than the medics thought - such an error would not be the first time in history doctors got it wrong. In addition he appears to have been concerned that withdrawal of nutrition and hydration with the expectation that death will result from that withdrawal is a legalised form of killing. Given that that is indeed what happened to RS, such a belief is clearly true. This is not the first time we have seen Catholic doctors accused of being Catholic and investigated by the GMC.

This was a very good outcome in a case whose merits appear very questionable, and which should never have been brought to the GMC. It is hard to avoid the view that the persecution of Catholic healthcare professionals is getting worse and worse. But we must always stand up for and (wisely and appropriately) proclaim the truth.

(Photo by Simon Caldwell)

For more on this case go to

  1. Simon Caldwell. Catholic Herald February 9, 2024
  2. Re RS, Court: England and Wales Court of Protection date: Jan 18, 2021 RS, Re | [2021] EWCOP 6 | England and Wales Court of Protection | Judgment | Law | CaseMine
  3. Z v. University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust & Ors Court: England and Wales Court of Protection date: 31, 2020.