Mental illness & Euthanasia?

A television documentary  “Tod nach Plan” (Death by Plan) aired on Swiss-German television in early February, followed the path to assisted suicide taken by a man suffering from bipolar disorder. This has focused debate on the practice of euthanasia / assisted suicide / medical killing for the mentally ill.

Society’s role

While there is little question that mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) and schizophrenia can be debilitating in the extreme and lead to great suffering, the obvious difference between such illnesses and terminal diseases like cancer is that they do not carry with them the certainty of death.

“The fact that it is a chronic illness is one thing, the fact that it is an incurable illness is another,” Panteleimon Giannakopoulos, head of mental health and psychiatry at the University Hospital of Geneva, told

Giannakopoulos notes that psychiatric illnesses often manifest themselves over many years, during which the patient may suffer periods when they can have suicidal thoughts and periods of improvement when they are able to live a relatively normal life.

“It is clear that for these people we can treat them, we can improve their situation,” he said.

But such people can often become marginalised from society through factors such as loss of employment and friends as a result of their illness, said Giannakopoulos. He warns that a lack of regulation for such cases could lead to a “certain type of modern engineering”.

“These people are often in very good [physical] health but often they have few friends and are very solitary,” he said. “Do we take the point of view that we allow them, during a phase of resignation to say ‘well that’s it, I’ll finish it’? In an indirect way, it’s a risk, if we let the flood gates open, it’s a way of getting rid of these people.”

See, Mental illness tests assisted suicide norms.

My former Ethics Advisor, the late Revd Dr Christopher Newell wrote a submission to the Tasmanian Parliament on this issue in 1997. It is pertinent today, Ethical Social Policy? Euthanasia and People at the Margins of Society, with Particular Attention to People with Disabilities.


Mental illness & Euthanasia? — 2 Comments

  1. Euthanasia for bi-polar disorder is wrong. As for being socially marginalised this has happened to me several times and the main cause is unemployment not the prejudice of ordinary people over mental health. I also have physical problems that prevent me doing most sports and that’s limited my social opportunities masssively. Despite being socially competent I have sometimes had no friends at all and you get terribly depressed in that situation because almost anyone else would too whether they had bi-polar disorder or not. When you look at your opportunities, socially, the only things in a smaller city are a Martial Arts Club and I can barely meet the physical requirement, or you have a camera club – that’s basically it. We have a society where most people sit at home, don’t participate in any clubs or societies except perhaps sports, and where pubs are places people go with their friends to be with people they know – a stranger is faced with a lot of problems. Once you have become lonely you are in terrible trouble in Western society. But chronic loneliness is pandemic; in London a respected piece of scientific research found that 42% of people are suffering it. Obviously, 42% of people are not socially inept or inadequate. The idea that only people with mental illness are severely lonely is not supported by the facts.



  2. Euthanasia for bipolar disorder is right. It’s not fair for society to acknowledge that people suffering from bipolar have a bio-chemical dysregulation in their brain that causes intense emotional pain, beyond the control of medication, or prevention, but does not acknowledge that the pain may be greater than someone without the disorder can understand, because they cant. Statistics indicate that there is no greater group of people who commit suicide than those with bipolar disorder or some form of mental illness. Yet, somehow those living without bipolar attempt to suggest that there are illnesses more painful or severe? To the point of being euthanized. The proof is in the pudding. I think people who have bipolar disorder should have the right to choose some form of being euthanized, rather than plot out how they’re going to kill themselves either by something painful, or something traumatic for their loved ones. Society has to acknowledge that the pain people with bipolar disorder suffer from is real. Mentally ill does not mean that it’s their imagination. The reality is that their brain chemistry is susceptible to a variety of factors resulting in excruciating pain, depression, anxiety, lethargy, hopelessness and invariably, a life that feels like torture. I think people with bipolar should have the right to say when they’ve suffered as much as they can, knowing that based on the vast amount of variables, there is no cure, and thus, no prevention.


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