Medically enabled suicides

In M. Cholbi J. Varelius (ed.), New Directions in the Ethics of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Springer. pp. 169-184 (2015)

Authors
Michael Cholbi
University of Edinburgh
Abstract
What I call medically enabled suicides have four distinctive features: 1. They are instigated by actions of a suicidal individual, actions she intends to result in a physiological condition that, absent lifesaving medical interventions, would be otherwise fatal to that individual. 2. These suicides are ‘completed’ due to medical personnel acting in accordance with recognized legal or ethical protocols requiring the withholding or withdrawal of care from patients (e.g., following an approved advance directive). 3. The suicidal individual acts purposefully to ensure that medical personnel will act on these protocols. 4. These suicides do not involve medical personnel providing aid in dying in the standard sense, either through (a) active voluntary euthanasia, or (b) assistance by means of prescriptions, etc. -/- Regardless of how common medically enabled suicides are, they raise compelling questions at the interface of medicine and individual choice. After first clarifying the concept of medically enabled suicide and exploring some of the reasons why it might be attractive to suicidal individuals, I then investigate two apparent dilemmas that medically enabled suicides raise for medical care providers. The first alleges that medical care providers may not contribute to harming their patients, and so they may not contribute to their patients’ suicides. The second alleges that if care providers, as a matter of personal conscience, believe that suicide is wrong, then they may not be compelled to contribute to their patient’s acting wrongly by assenting to the wishes of a patient pursuing medically enabled suicide. Both dilemmas arise from the fact that while medical personnel are bound by widely accepted precepts of medical ethics to honor the competent wishes of their patients, medically enabled suicides entangle them in their patients’ suicidal plans in ways that result in their contributing to those suicides. I conclude that neither dilemma should be resolved in the direction of medical personnel having the right to refrain from involvement in medically enabled suicides. Thus, while we may find medically enabled suicide distasteful or exploitative, a strong case cannot be made that medical personnel refusing to involve themselves in such suicides is ethically permissible.
Keywords Suicide  Assisted suicide
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