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The Source: Assisted Suicide For The Severely Depressed

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Five states in the U.S. allow for physician-assisted suicide. Oregon's "Death with Dignity" act allows people to request a lethal prescription of drugs only after -among other safeguards - two doctors confirming a terminal diagnosis with no more than six months to live.

But what about those with severe mental illness?

In this country, being reserved for only the near death, the question of whether or not more can be done for a patient is paramount.  This is a question Dr. Jason Morrow thinks can't be answered in the case of the mentally ill.

"How do you know that treatment has failed? What does treatment failure look like? Frankly that is an unanswered question. It's unanswered for depression, anorexia nervosa, even other psychotic disorders."

Advocates say the options are necessary for the severely depressed and untreatable mental disorders. Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands all allow assisted suicide in these cases. A new study reviewing some of these patients is raising questions about how that law is carried out. Feelings of isolation, severe depression, personality disorders and a history of psychiatric hospitalization were present in many of the cases. 55 percent of those reviewed were severely depressed. 

27 percent of the patients received the procedure from doctors who were new to them, and 24 percent had doctors that disagreed about end-of-life care. 

Can a doctor who just met you, or has only worked with you for two weeks be able to make this decision? Should doctors make this decision if it isn't unanimous?

Guest:

  • Jason Morrow, palliative care specialist at the University Health System and professor and medical ethicist for the University of Texas Health Science Center

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive