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Friday, September 28, 2018

A Debate Over ‘Rational Suicide’

Paula Span
The New York Times
Originally posted August 31, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Is suicide by older adults ever a rational choice? It’s a topic many older people discuss among themselves, quietly or loudly — and one that physicians increasingly encounter, too. Yet most have scant training or experience in how to respond, said Dr. Meera Balasubramaniam, a geriatric psychiatrist at the New York University School of Medicine.

“I found myself coming across individuals who were very old, doing well, and shared that they wanted to end their lives at some point,” said Dr. Balasubramaniam. “So many of our patients are confronting this in their heads.”

She has not taken a position on whether suicide can be rational — her views are “evolving,” she said. But hoping to generate more medical discussion, she and a co-editor explored the issue in a 2017 anthology, “Rational Suicide in the Elderly,” and she revisited it recently in an article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The Hastings Center, the ethics institute in Garrison, N.Y., also devoted much of its latest Hastings Center Report to a debate over “voluntary death” to forestall dementia.

Every part of this idea, including the very phrase “rational suicide,” remains intensely controversial. (Let’s leave aside the related but separate issue of physician aid in dying, currently legal in seven states and the District of Columbia, which applies only to mentally competent people likely to die of a terminal illness within six months.)

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