Physician-Assisted Suicide: Why Neutrality by Organized Medicine Is Neither Neutral Nor Appropriate

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Physician-Assisted Suicide: Why Neutrality by Organized Medicine Is Neither Neutral Nor Appropriate.

Daniel P. Sulmasy, MD, PhD, Ilora Finlay, FRCP, FRCGP, FMedSci, Faith Fitzgerald, MD, Kathleen Foley, MD, Richard Payne, MD, and Mark Siegler, MD

Corresponding Author:

Daniel P. Sulmasy, MD, PhD; Departments of Medicine & Philosophy, The Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, & Kennedy Institute of Ethics Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA.

ABSTRACT. It has been proposed that medical organizations adopt neutrality with respect to physician-assisted suicide (PAS), given that the practice is legal in some jurisdictions and that membership is divided.We review developments in end-of-life care and the role of medical organizations with respect to the legalization of PAS since the 1990s.We argue that moving from opposition to neutrality is not ethically neutral, but a substantive shift from prohibited to optional. We argue that medical organizations already oppose many practices that are legal in many jurisdictions, and that unanimity among membership has not been required for any other clinical or ethical policy positions. Moreover, on an issue so central to the meaning of medical professionalism, it seems important for organized medicine to take a stand. We subsequently review the arguments in favor of PAS (arguments from autonomy and mercy, and against the distinction between killing and allowing to die (K/ATD)) and the arguments against legalization (the limits of autonomy, effects on the patientphysician relationship, the meaning of healing, the validity of the K/ATD distinction, the social nature of suicide, the availability of alternatives, the propensity for incremental extension, and the meaning of control). We conclude that organized medicine should continue its opposition to PAS.


The article we publish does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The responsibility of the individual statements is the author. We propose this text as a contribution to dialogue in the scientific field.