American psychiatrists have come out against euthanasia for people who are not terminally ill.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) approved a statement
at the end of December saying: “A psychiatrist should not prescribe or
administer any intervention to a non-terminally ill person for the
purpose of causing death.”
The APA is America’s largest organisation for psychiatrists, with some 25,000 members.
The World Psychiatric Association is believed to be considering a similar statement.
Direct euthanasia, where a doctor gives a lethal injection to a
patient, is not legal in the United States, but in five states it is
legal for a doctor to prescribe a lethal drug which patients with a
terminal illness can then take themselves.
But critics say that phrasing such as “unbearable suffering” might be
used to extend euthanasia to people without terminal illnesses, but
with mental illnesses such as depression.
In Belgium this is legal.
2014 and 2015, 124 patients with “mental or behavioural disorder” were
euthanised; these were 3.1 per cent of the total of 3,950 cases in the
In Canada, physician-assisted suicide was legalised for physical
illnesses last June, and the country is considering extending this to
include people with mental illnesses.
“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,” said Mark Komrad, a member of the APA Ethics Committee. “This is when psychiatric patients start to be included.”
Opponents of euthanasia hope that the APA’s new stance – especially
if this is followed by the World Psychiatric Association – may help to
curb the spread of the practice.