Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Legalising active euthanasia and physician assisted suicide

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 06 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:846

Rapid Response:



The voluntary euthanasia debate continues to provoke contradictory arguements as evinced by the volume of letters following the leading article by Doyle and Doyle.

A recent report in the Journal of Medical Ethics describes 84% of the British population are in support of the legalisation of Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) and 54% the legalisation of Family Assisted Suicide. A clear majority of British public opinion are therefore in favour of legalisation of PAS, yet why then is there a reluctance to take the final step?

Lord Justice Tukey in his judgement said that all the indications were that democratic opinion in the United Kingdom was unready for change on the issue of assisted suicide. How does this statement accord with the findings of recently published research?

At present assisting suicide is illegal in the UK under the Suicide Act 1961 "A person who aids,abets, councils or procures the suicide of another , or the attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction or indictment to a term not exceeding fourteen years".

Miss B has successfully argued that article 3 of the European Convention on human Rights (the right to decide what will and will not be done with one's own body), and she now has a say in when she will decide the machine allowing her to breathe be switched off.

Mrs Diane Pretty is, due to the nature of her illness incapable of performing the final act for herself and requests that her husband be allowed to asssist her. What is the moral difference? The end result is the same. A competent person expressing his/her preference should have their views respected, and not automatcally challenged.

Ref, Doyal L., and Doyle L. BMJ 2001;323:1079-1080 J.Med. Ethics 2002;28:53-54

Competing interests: No competing interests

18 April 2002
Richard J.E. Gabb
SCMO Communicable Disease Control
SO22 5DG
Romsey Road, Winchester