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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Ethics of Suicide

The Ethics of Suicide

In the United States, suicide is listed by the National Institute of Mental Health as the eleventh most common cause of death. Suicide is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with an intent to die as a result of the behavior. CDC further considered suicide as a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effect not only on individuals but to families and communities as well.

As one of the front liners in the provision of health care, nurses encounter patients who have attempted suicide and are called as suicide survivors, as well as clients who want to discuss about ending their life in their own terms. In dealing with such clients, nurses are guided by the professional code of ethics which is founded on the following four principles:


This refers to respect for the patient’s right to self-determination. Based on this principle, bioethics has drafted responsibilities that nurses have to fulfil namely: respect for person which sanctifies choice, disclosure which entails telling the truth and giving all the facts, confidentiality which maintains privacy and fidelity wherein nurses are expected to be faithful to their patients. In the case of suicide, nurses have to know how to apply autonomy in dealing with their patients. Since a suicidal client is psychologically debilitated, he/she can’t really decide properly and when allowed to determine his/her fate, it might end up in suicide. Respect for the patient is better applied by recognizing his/her vulnerability. In terms of maintaining privacy, there are some circumstances when a breach of confidentiality may be allowed like when the patient becomes a threat to himself/herself or to others.


It is to do the greatest good possible. Nurses should act with the best interest of the client in mind. In dealing with a suicide survivor or a suicidal patient, nurses are expected to give the proper nursing interventions targeting their specific needs.


This principle means to do no harm. Nurses do all that they can, within the scope of their profession to safeguard the patient’s life even when it means protecting the patient from himself/herself.


Justice is the provision of fair and equal access to care. Whatever the background, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, ideals of the patient is, appropriate and reasonable care should be provided. A suicidal patient or a suicide survivor needs to be cared for comprehensively and compassionately. They need the support of the people around them which includes their healthcare providers especially the nurses, the ones who are frequently in contact with them.

Suicide is a serious matter which needs immediate attention and intervention. Nurses aim to provide the needed care to patients who are in a state of hopelessness to help them get back to a state of wellness. Their declaration of opting for suicide is a cry for help and guidance which nurses address in line with the code of ethics of nurses.


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