Letters Assisted dying debate

Try another approach, BMJ

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d451 (Published 25 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d451
  1. Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care1
  1. 1Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
  1. p.greenhalgh{at}qmul.ac.uk

Delamothe’s observations article offers evidence from trials and surveys in favour of his preferred policy solution: that doctors should be allowed to become involved in assisted dying.1 I, too, sympathise with such a policy, but I take issue with both him and Godlee, who seem to consider that this controversial policy change is justified exclusively by “rational” research evidence.2 Are these the same BMJ editors who had the insight to publish a paper on the dangers of the unchecked march of rationalism in a previous Christmas issue?3

As a family doctor, I support professional assistance with dying in carefully defined and monitored circumstances because I believe that such actions are morally justified, humane, and resonant with the personal values and professional codes of conduct which define my identity.

Good policy making should not be equated with the “evidence pipeline”: it entails the rhetorical deliberation over what is right and reasonable.4 In policy issues with “high issue polarisation”—that is, fundamental differences in values between stakeholders—research evidence tends to be used selectively and instrumentally to back up particular value based positions.5 If the BMJ wants to do something original in 2011, it should make a new year’s resolution not to try to answer questions about values by reaching for its traditional comfort blanket of epidemiological evidence. Scholarly articles on religious and moral philosophy as applied to the assisted dying question would be most welcome.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d451


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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