Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 33, Issue 8, pp 1394–1399 | Cite as

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

  • Daniel P. SulmasyEmail author
  • Ilora Finlay
  • Faith Fitzgerald
  • Kathleen Foley
  • Richard Payne
  • Mark Siegler


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 patient-physician 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.


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Dr. Finlay is co-chair of Living and Dying Well, an independent, not-for-profit British think tank on end of life issues. Dr. Payne is a paid consultant for Vitas Hospice. Dr. Siegler is a paid board member of Ross Medical School. Drs. Fitzgerald, Foley, and Sulmasy have no conflicts to declare.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel P. Sulmasy
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ilora Finlay
    • 2
  • Faith Fitzgerald
    • 3
  • Kathleen Foley
    • 4
  • Richard Payne
    • 5
  • Mark Siegler
    • 6
  1. 1.Departments of Medicine & Philosophy, The Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, & Kennedy Institute of Ethics Georgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Palliative MedicineCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  3. 3.Department of MedicineUC DavisDavisUSA
  4. 4.Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill-Cornell Medical CollegeNew YorkUSA
  5. 5.Duke University, Durham, NC & the Center for Practical BioethicsKansas CityUSA
  6. 6.MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics & Department of MedicineUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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