Bioethics News

The case for expanding physician-assisted death to psychiatric cases

Recently there has been a flurry of articles agitating for euthanasia for the mentally ill. The latest addition  by Hastings Center fellow Bonnie Steinbock, suggests assisted death for psychiatric cases is the logical consequence of current euthanasia legislation.

Steinbock suggests that no good argument has been made in defence of the current prohibitions on euthanasia for the mentally ill:  

“… the case for absolute exclusion of psychiatric conditions has not been made. It may be justified, in some cases and under certain conditions. Assisted death should always be a last resort, whether the condition prompting the request is physical illness or psychiatric condition.”

She discusses the potential objections that could be made to broadening the scope of the law, and suggests that none of them is convincing.

Many argue that the “terminal illness” requirement is appropriate. But Steinbock asserts that terminal illness is rarely the real motivation for patients seeking euthanasia:

“The data from Oregon show that physical suffering is not a primary reason why people request aid-in-dying. Loss of autonomy, loss of dignity, and loss of things that make life pleasurable and meaningful are more often cited as reasons. These too can cause intense suffering, although it is not the kind of suffering that can be addressed by morphine or other pain-relieving drugs. Moreover, concerns like these are not limited to those who are terminally ill.”

“The morally relevant features that justify restricting physician-assisted death are, I submit, incurable conditions and severe, unrelenting suffering, not terminal illness.”

Steinbock also addresses the claim that mental illness impairs decision making capacity:

“Certainly PAD should not be offered lightly.

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.