Volume 14, Issue 2, Fall 2000
Elliot D. Cohen
Permitting Suicide of Competent Clients in Counseling Legal and Moral Considerations
State statutes, case law, and professional codes of ethics in the mental health professions typically stress either a duty or the permissibility of disclosing confidential information in order to prevent clients from seriously harming themselves. These sources are intended to address cases where clients are deemed to be suffering from cognitive dysfunction for which paternalistic intervention, including involuntary hospitalization, is considered necessary to prevent self-destructive behavior.
The counselor’s moral and legal responsibility is less apparent when mentally competent clients desire suicide as release from irremediable suffering due to severe physical illness, and this desire is defensible within these clients’ value systems. This paper will explore moral and legal dimensions of a counselor’s decision not to intervene in such cases. The concept of permitted suicide will be introduced and defined, and guidelines for its application developed.