Sad woman complaining with bandages on wrists after suicide attempt at home

Hastings Center Report

Do Suicide Attempters Have a Right Not to Be Stabilized in an Emergency?

Abstract: The standard of care in the United States favors stabilizing any adult who arrives in an emergency department after a failed suicide attempt, even if he appears decisionally capacitated and refuses life-sustaining treatment. I challenge this ubiquitous practice. Emergency clinicians generally have a moral obligation to err on the side of stabilizing even suicide attempters who refuse such interventions. This obligation reflects the fact that it is typically infeasible to determine these patients’ level of decisional capacitation—among other relevant information—in this unique setting. Nevertheless, I argue, stabilizing suicide attempters over their objection sometimes violates a basic yet insufficiently appreciated right of theirs—the right against bodily invasion. In such cases, it is at least prima facie wrong to stabilize a patient who wants to die even if they lack a contrary advance directive or medical order and suffer from no terminal physical illness.

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