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December 26, 1966

Decisions on Life and Death

JAMA. 1966;198(13):1374. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03110260086035

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To the Editor:—  It is often said that if a physician decides to discontinue medical measures in the face of incurable illness he is assigning to himself the divine prerogative of deciding life and death—and thus is "playing God."This view is questionable on at least two grounds. First, it does not adequately distinguish between nature and (to use Jefferson's phrase) "nature's God." The view usually assumes that when a person is ill or dies, this is the direct will and action of God. The error is that it glosses over the difference between the processes of nature (even if established by a Creator) and a direct intervention by God. Thus, traditionally, such events as storms, accidents, and disease have been superstitiously referred to as "acts of God."If a child runs in front of an oncoming car and is injured or killed, is this the direct intent of God?