What of virtue and integrity?BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d467 (Published 25 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d467
All rapid responses
This correspondence, while more heated, is going nowhere.(1) (2) (3)
(4) For us still to be arguing about the definitions of single words is
not a good sign.
Of course Tony Delamothe provoked with the word 'outfit', but it was
not a scientific piece, although it did quote some science. It was
editorial, position piece, point of view. Editorials have non-evidence
based words (crazy, mad and deluded in the Editor's Choice (5) and the
editorial titled 'Dr Langsley's Monster' (6) in the same issue as the
above letters. Editors sometimes write like that.
Words are chosen partly for their associations. Those opposed to
assisted whatever we call it, prefer 'suicide' and 'euthanasia', while
those in favour, prefer 'dying'. And both for reason of the same
associations: crime, illegality and involuntariness.
We have different views and I don't expect us to agree, but it need
not stop us respecting some of our differences. I have not come across
anyone in the 'change' side who has shown the slightest urge to interfere
with or influence the decisions of those who want to wait for nature's
time of death. I mention this because I think some groups of people,
particularly those with significant physical handicap, have feared being
subjected to pressure to die before they want to. Maybe the very
intensity of the arguments and feelings press us towards such extreme
I don't know how that idea came about, but I hope that rumour stops.
So with palliative care. There is nothing in the reasoning or
publications from those who want the law changed to suggest that they are
against palliative care, nor that they want other people to end their own
It is possible for our profession to hold the two positions. Some
wish to end their own lives if they are incurably ill and some don't; some
are willing to assist the dying of another and others are not. That's all
right isn't it?
And similarly I can see no reason for the ones who want themselves
and others to wait for nature's time, to seek to forbid those who want to
die when they choose. It's a permissive bill we are after. Other people
would be able to continue their lives as long as they want to. Some may
think it morally wrong to take one's own life; but if that is the case, I
expect they can respect the 'right' of others to be morally wrong.
I think that we doctors sometimes have a tendency to give opinions
too freely and on too many things. The Royal College of Nursing, with
many members having strong views on one side or the other of this matter,
decided last year to be neutral. Maybe, for us in the BMA, that's an
example to follow.
Retired psychiatrist, London.
Declaration of interest: I am a member of the British Humanist
1 Greenhalgh, T. Try another approach, BMJ 2011; 342: 245 (29
2 McClelland, S. Put everything out in the open, BMJ 2011; 342: 245 (29
3 Breathnach, A. Let's get the words right too, BMJ 2011; 342: 245-246 (29
4 Knight, R. What of virtue and integrity? BMJ 2011; 342: 246 (29
5 Godlee, F. Editors Choice: NHS reforms-why now? BMJ 2011; 342: 236 (29
6 Delamothe, T., Godlee, F. Editorial: Dr Lansley's Monster, Too soon to
let it out of the lab, BMJ 2011; 342: 237 (29 January)
Competing interests: No competing interests