As the assisted suicide movement continues to grow, there are few organizations who have been willing to stand up against it. But the American Psychiatric Association has bravely done just that. They have released a statement revealing their opposition to psychiatrist participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide for the non-terminally ill.
Physician-assisted suicide differs from euthanasia in that the doctor prescribes but does not administer the drugs that will end the patient’s life. So far, in the United States, physician-assisted suicide is only permissible in cases of terminal illness and only in a handful of states. But as we have seen in Europe, it never stays that way. The regulations against it are relaxed, a little at a time, until we see that virtually anyone can be euthanized, for any reason. And often, this includes people suffering from mental illness and mental health disorders.
It is beginning to play out in Canada, where assisted suicide is legal for physical illness, yet, the Canadian government is beginning a formal study to consider allowing “requests made by individuals with mental illness as their sole underlying condition”.
Meanwhile, in Europe, people are regularly euthanized for non-terminal and mental health reasons. People have been euthanized because they are autistic, victims of sexual abuse, suffering from anorexia, or even for being disappointed in losing one’s looks with aging. Nathan (born Nancy) Verhelst was euthanized in Belgium after undergoing a sex change operation that didn’t provide the desired peace and acceptance.
Because of these cases and others like them, the statement from the APA is an important one. While brief, it was direct and clear that the group feels suicide should never be prescribed by a psychiatrist because of a mental illness. The Position Statement on Medical Euthanasia reads:
The American Psychiatric Association, in concert with the American Medical Association’s position on Medical Euthanasia, holds that a psychiatrist should not prescribe or administer any intervention to a non-terminally ill person for the purpose of causing death.
The APA’s stance on physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia being unethical for people suffering from mental illness is sorely needed because of the example being set in Europe. Dr. Martin Komrad of the APA ethics committee told BioEdge that the statement from the APA is specifically in protest of the euthanization of patients with psychiatric disorders and mental illness in Europe.
“So far, no other country that has implemented physician-assisted suicide has been able to constrain its application solely to the terminally ill, eventually including non-terminal patients as legally eligible as well,” Dr. Komrad said. “This is when psychiatric patients start to be included.”
Hopefully, as the assisted suicide movement continues to grow in the United States, the APA will continue to speak out against it and be heard.