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Assisted suicide and the killing of people? Maybe. Physician-assisted suicide and the killing of patients? No: the rejection of Shaw's new perspective on euthanasia
  1. Hugh V McLachlan
  1. Correspondence to Professor Hugh V McLachlan, School of Law and Social Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA, UK; H.McLachlan{at}


David Shaw presents a new argument to support the old claim that there is not a significant moral difference between killing and letting die and, by implication, between active and passive euthanasia. He concludes that doctors should not make a distinction between them. However, whether or not killing and letting die are morally equivalent is not as important a question as he suggests. One can justify legal distinctions on non-moral grounds. One might oppose physician-assisted suicide and active euthanasia when performed by doctors on patients whether or not one is in favour of the legalisation of assisted suicide and active euthanasia. Furthermore, one can consider particular actions to be contrary to appropriate professional conduct even in the absence of legal and ethical objections to them. Someone who wants to die might want only a doctor to kill him or to help him to kill himself. However, we are not entitled to everything that we want in life or death. A doctor cannot always fittingly provide all that a patient wants or needs. It is appropriate that doctors provide their expert advice with regard to the performance of active euthanasia but they can and should do so while, qua doctors, they remain hors de combat.

  • Applied and professional ethics
  • assisted suicide
  • concept of health
  • doctor–patient relationship
  • euthanasia
  • killing
  • law
  • letting die
  • philosophical ethics
  • philosophy of health professionals

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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