Intended for healthcare professionals


Assisted dying

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 13 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4075
  1. Fiona Godlee, editor in chief
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. fgodlee{at}

Legalisation is a decision for society not doctors

Ann McPherson, who died a year ago, was a general practitioner and a writer who successfully championed the importance of the patient’s voice in healthcare decisions.1 But her most important legacy may turn out to be a change in the law on assisted dying. Her commitment to this cause pre-dated her own final illness. It stemmed from her experience of being powerless to help terminally ill patients suffering prolonged indignity and distress despite having received optimal palliative care and asking for help to die.2 With terrible irony, Ann’s own death from pancreatic cancer exactly mirrored this experience. As told this week by her daughter Tess McPherson, the story offers a powerful case for a change in the law.3

Helping someone to die is a crime in most parts of the world. A few countries (including Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland) and three American states (Oregon, Washington, and Montana) have so far legalised assisted dying. In the United Kingdom in 2006 a bill on assisted dying for terminally ill patients was …

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