18 March 2003

Dear Editor,

I thank Dr Kirk for his perceptive letter. It is heartening, but embarrassing, when readers read the article more closely than the author, and doubly embarrassing when the paper includes a subheading entitled ‘Confused thinking’.

Indeed I meant to say that it is unacceptable (rather than morally unacceptable) to society for doctors to kill even terminally ill patients, as opposed to letting them die. This is particularly true for children, who are usually too young to make an autonomous choice. I do believe that euthanasia is morally justified in some instances, and might wish to have the option for myself, if enduring unbearable suffering from an untreatable disease which could not be relieved by the best palliative care. One may not always agree morally with society, but society's expectations bear consideration. A person might agree morally with euthanasia, but be reluctant to see it practiced, because of other considerations. These considerations include damage to the trust the public puts in doctors to heal rather than harm patients, and the concern that allowing euthanasia for some patients may be a slippery slope that leads to more widespread euthanasia for increasingly dubious reasons.