Response to BMJ Editorial on Physician Assisted Suicide

In response to…

I agree that doctors certainly should “engage” with this issue…and…of course I strongly disagree with the BMJ’s position in favor of physician assisted suicide (PAS).

There is much more to say, though for today I am going to focus on three points: 1) languaging, 2) the idea of organization “neutrality” on this issue, and 3) physician engagement on this issue.

First, languaging around the issue of PAS is important and should not be overlooked.  Names matter and, specifically, the specificity of naming matters.  Diseases, treatments, etc. in medicine tend to become more exact and accurate over time.  This is to help distinguish between one and the next in meaningful ways.  The push to move from terms like “assisted suicide” to “assisted death/dying” suggests, charitability, that those in favor of the latter see no difference between someone dying of their disease vs someone dying because of a purposeful lethal ingestion prescribed by a doctor. 

Please read that again…people on the pro-PAS side of the argument, at best, see no difference between you dying of cancer and a doctor prescribing you a lethal overdose

If you believe there is an important moral difference between these then please, please speak up next time you see this in writing or hear it in conversation.  Kind, charitable questions can generally help clarify whether the other person understands this essential difference.  At the very least we should be clear about what we’re discussing.  If you’d like to let the BMJ know what you think, you can contact them here.

Second, Dr. Godlee states both, “The BMJ’s position is that terminally ill people should be able to choose an assisted death…” AND “…the journal has called on professional organisations to adopt a neutral stance on the grounds that a decision to legalise assisted dying is for society and parliament to make.”  Just so we’re clear, it’s ok for the BMJ to be in favor of PAS AND it is improper for other organizations to take the opposite position.  Gotcha. (Hopefully) No further comment needed on this point.

Third, “Engagement of doctors in recent polls has been limited, with only 20% of physicians, 19% of BMA members, and 13% of GPs responding.”  I hope this makes it clear that any polls that might be out there woefully under-, and likely mis-represent, the true opinion of physicians. 

This debate is far from over and we are continuing to work with our colleagues and friends across New York State to keep our patients, friends, family, ourselves, and indeed our very profession safe from the scourge of physician assisted suicide!

-Tom Carroll, President – FLG

The BMJ also published a short response by Dr. Carroll to their article here.

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