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According to Kant’s ethics, at least on one common interpretation, persons have a special worth or dignity that demands respect. But personhood is not coextensive with human life; for example, individuals can live in severe dementia after losing the capacities constitutive of personhood. Some philosophers, including David Velleman and Dennis Cooley, have suggested that individuals living after the loss of their personhood might offend against the Kantian dignity the individuals once possessed. Cooley has even argued that it is morally required on Kantian grounds for those who realize that they will lose their personhood as a result of dementia (e.g. Alzheimer’s) to hasten their deaths (e.g. commit suicide). This article specifies circumstances in which post-personhood living might indeed involve an affront to the Kantian dignity of a person who once was. However, the article contends, Kant implies that it is neither morally required nor even morally permissible for someone in an early stage of Alzheimer’s to hasten their death to avoid such an affront, even if they have autonomously chosen to do so. The article adds an ethical perspective to debate on physician-assisted dying, in particular on the moral permissibility of the soon-to-be-demented ending their lives.
Distrust of health care system or providers can affect a patient’s decisions concerning whether to seek medical care, how openly to share health concerns, and how closely to follow a provider’s advice. A person’s health literacy and understanding of disease can also shape their interactions with medical professionals. Some analyses of racial health disparities have considered how patient “preferences” and behavior might contribute to those disparities or provide a basis for doctors’ stereotypes of Black patients as “noncompliant.”1 Various initiatives have sought to increase the trust that Black people or those from other marginalized communities place in medicine, approaching patients’ low trust levels as if they were a vitamin deficiency that needed correcting.
In 2018, the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMW) published a new guideline on physician-assisted dying (PAD). In line with the SAMW guideline published in 2004, the patients’ ability to judge, their self-determination, careful consideration and permanence of their wish to die as well as the lack of therapeutic options were set as necessary conditions. However, while the previous wording considered assisted suicide to be ethically justifiable if the patient’s condition is terminal, the new guideline requires that it is unbearable. This difference has been the subject of intense discussion in Swiss healthcare professionals and the population alike. This controversy is particularly important for those affected by mental illness who have a persistent desire to die. This is because mental disorders cannot usually be classified as terminal illnesses, but they can certainly lead to suffering that is perceived as unbearable. Furthermore, it is known that persons with mental illness are subject to stigmatization. It is therefore likely that there is a connection between the stigmatization of mentally ill people and the position on PAD for this group. This talk provides theoretical background on this discusion and proposes a study protocol to investigate the acceptance of PAD in relation to the type of illness as well as the factors of unbearable suffering and terminality. It will furthermore look into the criteria of the 2004 and 2018 guidelines and will explore if there is a connection between stigmatization and the assessment of whether a person should be granted access to assisted suicide.
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