In November 2001, the US Department of Justice, under Attorney General John Ashcroft, issued a directive to the effect that assisting suicide is not a ‘legitimate medical purpose’. The sanction that accompanied this directive, so far as doctors were concerned, was that, for any physician who prescribed drugs to assist suicide, an action could be undertaken by government to remove the doctor’s right to prescribe drugs, thereby effectively undercutting that doctor’s practice of medicine. A court injunction prevented this directive from being implemented, and the Supreme Court, during its 2005 term, will review the lower court’s decision. Prescribing pills to assist a patient in ending their life is not a legitimate medical purpose here, even, of course, if the prescribing is done at the voluntary request of a competent patient who wants to end their life.


Worth Living Assisted Suicide Refuse Treatment Competent Patient Active Death 
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  1. 1.
    Gerald Dworkin, R. G. Frey and Sissela Bok (1998) Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    See R. G. Frey (2005) ‘The Doctrine of Double Effect’, in R. G. Frey and Christopher Wellman (eds.), The Companion to Applied Ethics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell); and R. G. Frey (forthcoming) ‘Intending and Causing’, Theory of Ethics.Google Scholar

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© Ray Frey 2005

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  • Ray Frey

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