Friday, May 9, 2008

The Primacy of Physical Pain

Many who do not support a general right to suicide nevertheless allow that a person in extreme physical pain has a right to have that pain alleviated through palliation, even where such palliation could render the person unconscious, cause addiction, or, in some cases, even hasten his death. However, although the technology exists to alleviate the suffering of individuals in extreme mental and emotional pain, no right to palliation for emotional pain is widely recognized. Although drugs such as opiates, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines are very effective at reducing mental suffering, they are seen as being counter-indicated for use in patients who experience so much suffering that they want to die. Where the suffering is extreme physical pain, the risks of addiction, excessive sedation, and even death are seen as slight in comparison to the harm of forcing a patient to experience the pain; however, when the suffering is "merely" mental, addiction, sedation, and the risk of death are suddenly more important than relieving the patient's suffering. Patients with mental suffering are instead given drugs that do little to relieve their suffering, such as the SSRI antidepressants recently revealed to have no effect beyond that of placebo. The logic is cruel: "You are suffering so much that you want to die; but you can't have this drug that might relieve your suffering, because you might use it to die. Better for us to force you to suffer needlessly than to allow you to possibly die."

Where a society forbids its resources to be used to relieve the extreme mental suffering of its citizens, it is especially cruel to also prohibit suicide for those citizens who have been denied palliation.

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