Physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, and withdrawal of treatment

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.316.7124.71a (Published 03 January 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:71

Full debate is needed in Britain …

  1. Peter Bradley, Specialist registrar in public health medicinea
  1. a Northamptonshire Health Authority, Northampton NN1 5DN
  2. b Argentinean Society of Medicine, 1199 Buenos Aires, Argentina
  3. c Health Centre, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ

    Editor—In view of the recent conclusion by the BMA that the practice of euthanasia should not be sanctioned1 and the admission by some doctors of their own practice,2 it is important that the central issues of the debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide are fully clarified.

    The legal framework, although extremely important in regulating practice, is unlikely to be able to resolve the individual moral dilemma presented to a practitioner who is contemplating euthanasia or assisted suicide for a patient.3 It is important to differentiate legal from moral frameworks in this respect. Legal frameworks are designed to enforce a baseline of reasonable behaviour in society. If individuals behave in an illegal way then they can expect to receive punishment for their actions. Moral frameworks, in contrast, are meant to achieve more than this. They are concerned not only with minimal standards of behaviour but also with ideals. In short, moral frameworks can inform how we ought to behave as well as how we must behave if we are not to be punished. Clearly, in some cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide, practitioners believe that they ought to help suffering patients but are not legally permitted to do so.

    The two main moral arguments used to condemn …

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