The Corner

Health Care

Autonomy or Abandoning the Mentally Ill?

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A U.K. woman with anorexia is in danger of starving to death and courts there will not allow force-feeding to save her life because she has decision-making capacity. From the BioEdge story:

At this stage the only way to save her life is naso-gastric tube feeding. But AB finds this abhorrent. She would have to be restrained or sedated during the procedure to keep her from ripping the tube out. “The only purpose of such an option would be to re-nourish AB’s body to the point where she is well enough to engage in psychiatric or psychological therapies,” observes Mrs Justice Roberts in her decision.

Isn’t that what we should do for people with mental illnesses? Self-harming is a terrible affliction. Shouldn’t true compassion mean we protect such people from themselves? I mean, if she were burning herself with a cigarette, would we hand her the lighter? If she wanted to commit suicide, would we just stand back and say, in effect, “Have at it”?

I think that is precisely where we are heading in Western society. Germany’s highest court recently conjured a right to commit suicide — which the court called “self-determined death”– for any reason whatever, and further, that anyone can assist as a concomitant constitutional right. The court specifically ruled that society and family have no standing to question the reasons or the lethal action.

In Belgium and Netherlands, mentally ill people receive voluntary euthanasia, conjoined with organ harvesting.

In California, those involuntarily confined in mental hospitals are required to be provided access to assisted suicide if they otherwise qualify for a lethal prescription. By definition, such people have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be a threat to their own safety or that of others.

Oh, and by the way: September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day. Did you miss it? I am not surprised. We don’t put much energy into saving people from themselves anymore, and indeed, are moving as a culture toward an ethic that believes we don’t have any right to keep people from harming or killing themselves.

Some call that respecting autonomy. I call it abandonment.

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