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Legalising assisted dying puts vulnerable patients at risk and doctors must speak up

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 26 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f4062
  1. Bill Noble, Macmillan senior lecturer in palliative medicine, University of Sheffield, Academic Unit of Supportive Care, Sheffield S11 9NE, UK
  1. bill.noble{at}

If proposed legislation on assisted dying involves doctors, then we must make our reservations known, says Bill Noble

Assisted dying is legal, physician assisted suicide for mentally competent adults who are terminally ill. Now that another piece of legislation has had its first reading in the UK House of Lords,1 the debate is on again. I have no religious objections, but I recoil from the vision of a society where death is a therapeutic option; the idea that there are two categories of suicidal people, those deserving and those undeserving of death; and the idea that doctors should do the sorting and the killing.

In June 2012, the BMJ carried editorials supporting the call from the Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD) for medical organisations—such as the BMA and the royal colleges—to adopt “studied neutrality” on the question of legalising assisted suicide.2 3 The BMJ’s editor, Fiona Godlee, is right to argue that society and not the medical profession should determine the law. But if organisations representing doctors step back, while legislation insists on doctors’ involvement, we abrogate …

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