Intended for healthcare professionals


Assisted dying

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 13 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4075

Re: Assisted dying

In her editorial about assisted dying Fiona Godlee argues that legalization is a decision for society, not for doctors. Obviously she is right that the legislative power in society is not held by doctors. Thus it will not be up to doctors to make the final decision about legalization. However, Godlee makes a – literally – fatal error in her reasoning. The fact that doctors might be forced by a democratic process to accept assisted dying as a part of health care does not justify neutrality on the issue. The ethical standard of our profession cannot be dictated by the general population. Rather we should as a profession defend life, promote the advance of comprehensive palliative care and oppose the view that dependence implies lack of dignity. A profession dealing with life and death needs a solid ethical basis which is not subject to changing views in the population. If we as medical professionals fail to take position on the important ethical issues we become mere executioners of public policy. History provides repeated examples of societies where doctors have failed to adhere to professional standards and instead blindly followed the dictates of power. Such mistakes must not be repeated. As medical professionals we must build our ethical code on some unchanging truths, one of which is that doctors should neither kill patients nor assist in suicide. Adhering to sound professional ethics cannot be combined with neutrality on assisted dying. Following the line of thought demonstrated by Godlee would not only lead to acceptance of assisted dying. If we as doctors blindly follow the view of the public majority we will over time be left without a professional code of ethics.

Competing interests: The text is written on behalf of the Norwegian Christian Medical Association

21 July 2012
Olav Magnus Fredheim
Ingrid M. Hardang
Norwegian Christian Medical Association
Storgata 10B, 0155 Oslo, Norway