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Physician-Assisted Death and Severe, Treatment-Resistant Depression

Should people suffering from untreatable psychiatric conditions be eligible for physician-assisted death? This is possible in Belgium and the Netherlands, where PAD for psychiatric conditions is permitted, though rare, so long as the criteria of due care are met. Those opposed to all instances of PAD point to Belgium and the Netherlands as a dark warning that once PAD is legalized, restricting it will prove impossible because safeguards, such as the requirement that a patient be terminally ill, will inevitably be eroded or discarded. However, some supporters respond that limiting PAD to those suffering from terminal illness, or physical illnesses generally, is arbitrary and illogical. In addition, precisely because such patients are not terminally ill, their suffering may last for years, even the rest of their lives. Finally, severe depression may not be treatable. If PAD is justifiable under some conditions—as I shall assume in this article—then why wouldn’t it be justifiable for these patients? Why shouldn’t psychiatrists who have nothing else to offer their suffering patients be able to help them to die, if that is what they want?

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