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The debate about physician assistance in dying: 40 years of unrivalled progress in medical ethics?
  1. Søren Holm1,2,3
  1. 1Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  2. 2Faculty of Medicine, Centre for Medical Ethics, HELSAM, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  3. 3Centre for Ethics in Practice, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to Professor Søren Holm, Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK; Soren.holm{at}


Some issues in medical ethics have been present throughout the history of medicine, and thus provide us with an opportunity to ascertain: (1) whether there is progress in medical ethics; and (2) what it means to do good medical ethics. One such perennial issue is physician assistance in dying (PAD). This paper provides an account of the PAD debate in this journal over the last 40 years. It concludes that there is some (but limited) progress in the debate. The distinctions, analogies and hypothetical examples have proliferated, as have empirical studies, but very little has changed in terms of the basic arguments. The paper further argues that many of the contributions to the debate fail to engage fully with the concerns people have about the legal introduction of PAD in the healthcare system, perhaps because many of the contributions sit on the borderline between academic analysis and social activism.

  • Physician assistance in dying
  • euthanasia
  • physician assisted suicide
  • conscientious objection
  • method in medical ethics
  • progress in medical ethics
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