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A role for doctors in assisted dying? An analysis of legal regulations and medical professional positions in six European countries


Bosshard, G; Broeckaert, B; Clark, D; Materstvedt, L J; Gordijn, B; Müller-Busch, H C (2008). A role for doctors in assisted dying? An analysis of legal regulations and medical professional positions in six European countries. Journal of Medical Ethics, 34(1):28-32.

Abstract

OBJECTIVES: To analyse legislation and medical professional positions concerning the doctor's role in assisted dying in western Europe, and to discuss their implications for doctors. METHOD: This paper is based on country-specific reports by experts from European countries where assisted dying is legalised (Belgium, The Netherlands), or openly practiced (Switzerland), or where it is illegal (Germany, Norway, UK). RESULTS: Laws on assisted dying in The Netherlands and Belgium are restricted to doctors. In principle, assisted suicide (but not euthanasia) is not illegal in either Germany or Switzerland, but a doctor's participation in Germany would violate the code of professional medical conduct and might contravene of a doctor's legal duty to save life. The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill proposed in the UK in 2005 focused on doctors, whereas the Proposal on Assisted Dying of the Norwegian Penal Code Commission minority in 2002 did not. Professional medical organisations in all these countries except The Netherlands maintain the position that medical assistance in dying conflicts with the basic role of doctors. However, in Belgium and Switzerland, and for a time in the UK, these organisations dropped their opposition to new legislation. Today, they regard the issue as primarily a matter for society and politics. This "neutral" stance differs from the official position of the Royal Dutch Medical Association which has played a key role in developing the Dutch practice of euthanasia as a "medical end-of-life decision" since the 1970s. CONCLUSION: A society moving towards an open approach to assisted dying should carefully identify tasks to assign exclusively to medical doctors, and distinguish those possibly better performed by other professions.

OBJECTIVES: To analyse legislation and medical professional positions concerning the doctor's role in assisted dying in western Europe, and to discuss their implications for doctors. METHOD: This paper is based on country-specific reports by experts from European countries where assisted dying is legalised (Belgium, The Netherlands), or openly practiced (Switzerland), or where it is illegal (Germany, Norway, UK). RESULTS: Laws on assisted dying in The Netherlands and Belgium are restricted to doctors. In principle, assisted suicide (but not euthanasia) is not illegal in either Germany or Switzerland, but a doctor's participation in Germany would violate the code of professional medical conduct and might contravene of a doctor's legal duty to save life. The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill proposed in the UK in 2005 focused on doctors, whereas the Proposal on Assisted Dying of the Norwegian Penal Code Commission minority in 2002 did not. Professional medical organisations in all these countries except The Netherlands maintain the position that medical assistance in dying conflicts with the basic role of doctors. However, in Belgium and Switzerland, and for a time in the UK, these organisations dropped their opposition to new legislation. Today, they regard the issue as primarily a matter for society and politics. This "neutral" stance differs from the official position of the Royal Dutch Medical Association which has played a key role in developing the Dutch practice of euthanasia as a "medical end-of-life decision" since the 1970s. CONCLUSION: A society moving towards an open approach to assisted dying should carefully identify tasks to assign exclusively to medical doctors, and distinguish those possibly better performed by other professions.

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35 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Legal Medicine
04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine
01 Faculty of Theology > Center for Ethics
Dewey Decimal Classification:170 Ethics
340 Law
610 Medicine & health
Uncontrolled Keywords:end of life; euthanasia; assisted suicide; professional role
Language:English
Date:January 2008
Deposited On:22 Sep 2008 09:00
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:28
Publisher:BMJ Publishing Group
ISSN:0306-6800
Additional Information:Copyright: BMJ Publishing Group
Publisher DOI:10.1136/jme.2006.018911
PubMed ID:18156518
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-3902

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