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Ethical question: Assisted Dying

I’ve received a letter from the Royal College of Physicians, who are circulating their members to ask for their views on the proposed legislation to legalise assisted suicide. For a patient who is thought to be within six months of death, a doctor would be able to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs on the patient’s request if the patient is suffering “unbearably”. The College is neutral at present, hence its decision to canvass the opinion of members.

This isn’t something that concerns me personally, except possibly as a recipient at some future time, since I am now retired from clinical practice. Even when I was practising it never arose for me. Still, I feel I should send a reply.

The problem I have at present is that I’m not sure what to reply. I do think that it is everyone’s right to end their life if they find it to be intolerable. I’m not sure that doctors should actively assist them, however. This is partly on practical grounds (it could be open to abuse), and partly ethical: it has always been accepted that doctors should not do harm and I think it would diminish patients’ confidence if they thought there was a possibility of this happening.

On balance, therefore, I’m likely to vote for no change in the present position, but I’ve got until 14 April to decide so I’ll be


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