The influence of cognitive distortions on decision-making capacity for physician aid in dying

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As international laws on physician aid in dying (PAD) evolve, the question of permitting PAD in non-terminal illness, and in sole psychiatric illness, is under intense debate. In jurisdictions where PAD is permissible, certain safeguards and eligibility requirements must be met for all patients making a PAD request, and one of these requirements is that the patient have sound decision-making capacity with respect to the request. Legal criteria already exist for the determination of capacity, and they are quite similar between different jurisdictions. In current debates about the question of psychiatric PAD, one concern that has been raised is that cognitive distortions in mental disorders may affect a patient's decision-making capacity. At the same time, it has been established that all persons, with or without a mental disorder, experience cognitive distortions. If cognitive distortions are ubiquitous, it is likely that the severity and frequency of cognitive distortions is dimensional rather than categorical, between samples with and without mental illness. Furthermore, currently, there is no requirement for a formalized evaluation of cognitive distortions as part of capacity assessment for any type of medical decision, including PAD decisions. The current paper examines the literature related to cognitive distortions in mental disorders and in healthy populations. It proposes that the existence of cognitive distortions, alone, cannot be used as an argument for a blanket exclusion of psychiatric PAD. It therefore concludes that further research and ethical analysis should be undertaken to examine the impact of cognitive distortions on decision-making for consequential medical decisions, including PAD, in patients with and without mental disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101627
JournalInternational journal of law and psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


  • Cognitive distortions
  • Medical aid in dying
  • Medical decision-making capacity
  • Mental disorder
  • Physician aid in dying

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