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March 2, 1990

Physician Participation in Assisted Suicide

Author Affiliations

University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu

University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu

JAMA. 1990;263(9):1197-1198. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440090027009

To the Editor.—  The appearance of the article entitled "Physician Participation in Assisted Suicide" in JAMA is an encouraging sign that this issue is receiving attention at the highest levels of the medical profession. Dr Orentlicher,1 Ethics and Health Policy Counsel, has provided a fair-minded review of the trend toward permissibility and has marshalled arguments against assisting suicide. Unfortunately, these arguments are wanting.Dr Orentlicher begins by reminding us that the American Medical Association's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, following the Hippocratic Oath, has held that, although physicians may intend to save life and relieve suffering, they may not intend as a "primary purpose" the deaths of their patients.Since we are not told how to derive these truths, we have either unsupported assertions (not an argument at all) or, in the alternative, an appeal to traditional authority. Because the Hippocratic Oath also prohibits abortion and "cutting for