J Med Ethics 30:441-446 doi:10.1136/jme.2003.005090
  • Law, ethics and medicine

Euthanasia: above ground, below ground

  1. R S Magnusson
  1. Correspondence to:
 R S Magnusson
 University of Sydney;
  • Received 2 June 2003
  • Accepted 27 November 2003
  • Revised 11 August 2003


The key to the euthanasia debate lies in how best to regulate what doctors do. Opponents of euthanasia frequently warn of the possible negative consequences of legalising physician assisted suicide and active euthanasia (PAS/AE) while ignoring the covert practice of PAS/AE by doctors and other health professionals. Against the background of survey studies suggesting that anything from 4% to 10% of doctors have intentionally assisted a patient to die, and interview evidence of the unregulated, idiosyncratic nature of underground PAS/AE, this paper assesses three alternatives to the current policy of prohibition. It argues that although legalisation may never succeed in making euthanasia perfectly safe, legalising PAS/AE may nevertheless be safer, and therefore a preferable policy alternative, to prohibition. At a minimum, debate about harm minimisation and the regulation of euthanasia needs to take account of PAS/AE wherever it is practised, both above and below ground.