Irremediable Psychiatric Suffering in the Context of Physician-assisted Death: A Scoping Review of Arguments: La souffrance psychiatrique irrémédiable dans le contexte du suicide assisté : Une revue étendue des arguments

Sisco M.P. van Veen, Andrea M. Ruissen, Guy A.M. Widdershoven

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Physician-assisted death (PAD), also known as medical assistance in dying, of patients with a psychiatric disorder (PPD) is a global issue of debate. In most jurisdictions that allow PAD, irremediable suffering is a legal requirement, how to apply the concept of irremediability to PPD remains challenging. The aim of this article is to identify the main arguments concerning irremediability in the debate about PAD of PPD and give directions for further moral deliberation and empirical research. Methods: Systematic searches in MEDLINE, Embase, and PsycINFO were combined with 4 additional search strategies. All conceptual-ethical articles, quantitative and qualitative empirical studies, guidelines, case reports, and commentaries that met the inclusion criteria were included, and a qualitative data synthesis was used to identify recurring themes within the literature. The study protocol was preregistered at the Open Science Framework under registration code: thjg8. Results: A total of 50 articles met the inclusion criteria. Three main arguments concerning irremediability were found in the debate about PAD of PPD: uncertainty, hope, and treatment refusal. Conclusions: Uncertainty about irremediability is inevitable, so which level of certainty is morally required should be the subject of moral deliberation. Whether PAD induces or resolves hopelessness is an empirical claim that deserves clarification. Treatment refusal in search of PAD raises questions about treatment efficacy in this patient group and about decision-making in the context of the physician–patient relationship. Going forward, more attention should be given to epidemiological research and to specific challenges posed by different psychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-603
Number of pages11
JournalCanadian Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


  • ethics
  • irremediability
  • physician-assisted death
  • psychiatry
  • review

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