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Int J Law Psychiatry. 2013 Sep-Dec;36(5-6):444-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2013.06.016. Epub 2013 Jul 12.

Physician-assisted suicide of patients with dementia. A medical ethical analysis with a special focus on patient autonomy.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, LWL University Hospital, Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany. Electronic address:


For many years there has been a controversial international debate on physician-assisted suicide (PAS). While proponents of PAS regularly refer to the unbearable suffering and the right of self-determination of incurably ill patients, critics often warn about the diverse risks of abuse. In our article, we aim to present ethical arguments for and against PAS for patients in an early stage of dementia. Our focus shall be on ethical questions of autonomy, conceptual and empirical findings on competence and the assessment of mental capacity to make health care decisions. While the capacity to make health care decisions represents an ethically significant precondition for PAS, it becomes more and more impaired in the course of the dementia process. We present conditions that should be met in order to ethically justify PAS for patients with dementia. From both a psychiatric and an ethical perspective, a thorough differential diagnosis and an adequate medical and psychosocial support for patients with dementia considering PAS and their relatives should be guaranteed. If, after due deliberation, the patient still wishes assistance with suicide, a transparent and documented assessment of competence should be conducted by a professional psychiatrist.


Autonomy; Competence assessment; Dementia; End-of-life decisions; Medical ethics; Physician-assisted suicide

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