Ethicist: Psychiatrists should prevent suicide, not prescribe it

Ethicist: Psychiatrists should prevent suicide, not prescribe it

  • Charles Collins – Jul 14, 2018
Dr. Mark Komrad – a clinical psychiatrist and an ethicist who is on the teaching Faculty of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, Sheppard Pratt, and the University of Maryland – told Crux euthanasia is antithetical to psychiatry.

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Euthanasia is a violation of millennia-old medical ethics, and a patient seeking death from a doctor is antithetical to what it means to be a physician, says a leading American medical ethicist.

Dr. Mark Komrad – a clinical psychiatrist and an ethicist who is on the teaching Faculty of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, Sheppard Pratt, and the University of Maryland – told Crux this is even more true for psychiatric patients.

“It is an anathema, it is an inversion, to put psychiatrists particularly of all specialists, in the position of diverting their patients towards death,” he said on the sidelines of a half-day symposium on the ethics surrounding suicide and euthanasia which took place July 7 at the Oxford-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre, the leading Catholic institute in the field in the United Kingdom.

Komrad said this goes back further than the origins of Christianity and notes the Hippocratic Oath in ancient Greece forbade killing patients even if asked by them, and this is what distinguished it from other schools of the era.

“The general principles of medical ethics – the fundamental ethos of medicine – was to not administer death; to provide comfort, to sometimes get out of the way of death, but certainly not in any systematic and groupthink way, legal way, to administer death,” he said.

Komrad was a key influence on the statement by the American Psychiatric Association on medical euthanasia, which states “that a psychiatrist should not prescribe or administer any intervention to a non-terminally ill person for the purpose of causing death.”

“We have a skillset that can help people find somehow a path to a better future or to try at least to do our best to mitigate suffering, to provide hope, to travel with patients in their suffering,” he told Crux.

“So we can do all of those things, but we prevent suicides, we do not provide suicides. That is our message when working with individuals, and it is also very much our public message when it comes to public health and our campaigns in society to try and mitigate suicide and steer people towards treatment,” Komrad said.

The psychiatrist – who is Jewish, not Catholic – said a “post-Catholic” ideology is at play in traditionally Catholic countries such as Belgium to legalize euthanasia for non-terminal patients.

“To appreciate how there was a powerful rising tide of secularism in general, and specifically a rejection of its long historical Catholic character and roots … So, this idea of Belgium trying to redefine itself, reestablish its identity as a sort of post-Catholic, secularist culture, and identifying the fundamental objection to euthanasia as arising out of an old obsolete set of Catholic values, the same values that had been promoted to object to abortion,” Komrad said.

He spoke to Crux about euthanasia and psychiatry, the post-Catholic ethics in Belgium, and how society should view medically-assisted suicide. Here are excerpts of that conversation.

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2 comments on “Ethicist: Psychiatrists should prevent suicide, not prescribe it

  1. Belgian ethicist says euthanasia has become ‘sacralized

    Charles Collins – Jul 9, 2018

    Dr. Willem Lemmens is a Professor of Modern Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Antwerp and told Crux “those psychiatrists opposing the too broad and lenient application of the law are scorned for being inhumane and for lacking empathy with unbearable suffering.”

    LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A half-day symposium on the ethics surrounding suicide and euthanasia took place this weekend at the Oxford-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre, the leading Catholic institute in the field in the United Kingdom.

    The symposium was part of a three-day symposium on the ethics of psychiatry and mental health care.

    The issue has gained urgency after the Netherlands and Belgium began allowing euthanasia for people suffering from mental illnesses.

    Last year, a chain of Belgian psychiatric hospitals owned by the Brothers of Charity religious order defied the Vatican in allowing its patients to be euthanized.

    “In just a few years, requests for euthanasia in psychiatry became more and more ‘acceptable’ and common in Belgium, despite the fact that one often said – also among pro-euthanasia doctors – that the law was intended for somatic terminal diseases, not mental suffering caused by psychiatric diseases,” said Dr. Willem Lemmens, a participant at the Oxford symposium.

    Lemmens is a Professor of Modern Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Antwerp and told Crux “those psychiatrists opposing the too broad and lenient application of the law are scorned for being inhumane and for lacking empathy with unbearable suffering.”

    “So, the moral climate has changed drastically, in the sense that euthanasia is called by some a ‘fundamental right’ and death a ‘therapeutic solution.’ Euthanasia is sacralized, so to say, and every critique is dismissed as inhumane, thus immoral,” he said.

    With euthanasia and assisted suicide being legalized in several U.S. states, and being debated in parts of the United Kingdom, Lemmens said pro-life advocates should “raise your voice in a dignified manner and listen to the critical testimonies and voices in Belgium and the Netherlands.”

    Lemmens spoke to Crux about how legalized euthanasia is affecting the field of psychiatry. Here is that conversation.

  2. The late and truly great John Vennari spared nothing in trying to warn Catholics that this nightmare was about to be unleashed, a decade ago.

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