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Is the exclusion of psychiatric patients from access to physician-assisted suicide discriminatory?

Abstract

Advocates of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) often argue that, although the provision of PAS is morally permissible for persons with terminal, somatic illnesses, it is impermissible for patients suffering from psychiatric conditions. This claim is justified on the basis that psychiatric illnesses have certain morally relevant characteristics and/or implications that distinguish them from their somatic counterparts. In this paper, I address three arguments of this sort. First, that psychiatric conditions compromise a person’s decision-making capacity. Second, that we cannot have sufficient certainty that a person’s psychiatric condition is untreatable. Third, that the institutionalisation of PAS for mental illnesses presents morally unacceptable risks. I argue that, if we accept that PAS is permissible for patients with somatic conditions, then none of these three arguments are strong enough to demonstrate that the exclusion of psychiatric patients from access to PAS is justifiable.

  • psychiatry
  • competence/incompetence
  • suicide/assisted suicide
  • ethics
  • clinical ethics
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