Bioethics Blogs

Euthanasia for Reasons of Mental Health

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

An article in the (UK) Daily Mail this week focused on a Dutch woman who chose euthanasia “after doctors decided her post-traumatic stress and other conditions were incurable.” Under Dutch euthanasia laws, a physician can end a patient’s life with a lethal injection for mental suffering. Her life was ended last year.

Euthanasia is when a physician delivers the substance that ends a patient’s life. This is distinct from physician/doctor/provider-assisted suicide (often called aid-in-dying) where a physician makes the means to end life available (often through a prescription) but the patient must ingest the life-ending medication. Such laws began as ways for people facing terminal illnesses to end their lives in order to avoid physical pain and suffering. In all 5 U.S. states that allow some form of aid-in-dying it is only available to adults who are mentally competent and terminally ill. No U.S. state permits euthanasia.

In other countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, aid-in-dying has been broadened to euthanasia for those who cannot take their own lives (they make be unable to swallow or lack the mobility to ingest medication or flip a switch on a “suicide machine.”). In some cases euthanasia has been done to those who lack competency such as “children [who] are occasionally born with such serious disorders that termination of life is regarded as the best option.” In that case, both the physician and the parent must agree on the prognosis and lack of “reasonable alternative solution,” as part of the Groningen Protocol.

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.