A Case of Attempted Suicide in Huntingtonís Disease: Ethical and Moral Considerations


Kristin Furfari, Nichole Zehnder, and Jean Abbott


A 62-year-old female with Huntingtonís disease presented after a suicide attempt. Her advance directive stated that she did not want intubation or resuscitation, which her family acknowledged and supported. Despite these directives, she was resuscitated in the emergency department and continued to state that she would attempt suicide again. Her suicidality in the face of a chronic and advancing illness, and her prolonged consistency in her desire to take her own life, left careproviders wondering how to provide ethical, respectful care to this patient.


Tension between the ethical principles of autonomy and beneficence is central in this case. The patientís narrative demonstrated that her suicide was an autonomous decision, free from coercion or disordered thinking from mental illness. Beneficence then would seem to necessitate care aligned with the patientís desire to end her life, which created ethical uneasiness for her family and careproviders.


The case highlights several end-of-life ethical considerations that have received much recent attention. With ongoing discussions about the legalization of aid in dying across the country, caregivers are challenged to understand what beneficence means in people with terminal illnesses who want a say in their death. This case also highlights the profound moral distress of families and careproviders that arises in such ethically challenging scenarios.



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