Bioethics Blogs

Cancer – The Best Way to Die?

A blog post late last month by Richard Smith, former editor of the BMJ, has provoked a storm of criticism and controversy. Provocatively entitled, “Dying of Cancer is the Best Death”, the author argues that a death from cancer is preferable and closes, controversially, with:

“…let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.”

To be fair, the points Smith attempted to make in his article have been taken to their emotional extreme by his critics – so much so that he has written a follow-up post better explaining his (far more moderate) views.

In any case, two questions come to mind. Might cancer indeed be the best, or least worst, death? And is it possible money allocated to cancer treatment and research could be better spent elsewhere? The first will be addressed in this piece – the latter, on the other hand, cannot be done justice in this given space (and may be the subject of a follow-up post).


Why, then, does Smith believe that cancer is, all things considered, a good way to die? He points out that everyone, at some point, must die – and that there are, excluding suicide and euthanasia, only “four ways to die”:

  1. Sudden, presumably unexpected, death
  2. The long, slow decline of dementia
  3. The cyclical course of gradual organ failure
  4. Cancer

A sudden death, he believes, while painless and short, leaves your loves ones unprepared, while the decline of dementia slowly erases your sense of self.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.