Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of brjgenpracRCGP homepageJ R Coll Gen Pract at PubMed CentralBJGP at RCGPBJGP at RCGP
Br J Gen Pract. 2009 December 1; 59(569): 943–944.
PMCID: PMC2784533

Assisted dying

In his thoughtful editorial on assisted suicide,1 David Jewell warns against medical paternalism and concludes by pointing out that doctors are ‘… not the public's masters but its servants’.

While I might agree with his assertion that ‘… the public understands these issue all to well’, it is clear that such understanding has led to widely different views within it. Jewell suggests that doctors should inform the debate but not be involved in fundamental decision making, and this then raises the issue of who will, in fact, take on this responsibility. Jewell's suggestion that ‘the public’ will do so is disingenuous, given the obvious lack of unanimity of opinion within it. In any case, it seems curious to me for doctors to be urged to take such a passive role, when it is they who will be charged, quite literally, with the responsibility of delivering assisted suicide if it is introduced.

The risk here is that the voices of the politically powerful and influential will prevail. If they really want to safeguard the interests of their more vulnerable patients, doctors would do well to remember that there is a world of difference between being a public servant and a slave to majority public opinion.

Editor's comment

Dr Alberti raises an important question, about the role of editors in setting the policy for journals. Mostly I have restrained myself from commenting: in 10?years this was, I think, only the third editorial I have published (there was a fourth that a trusted colleague persuaded me not to publish). But influence is exerted by the decisions on what to publish, which editorials are commissioned, and who is invited to write them. On this occasion I invited someone else, but when he declined I realised that I knew what content I wanted so decided not to hide behind someone else but to sign it myself — Ed


1. Jewell D. Our debt to those who are dying. Br J Gen Pract. 2009;59(568):809–810. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners