When to Say When: Responding to a Suicide Attempt in the Acute Care Setting
Abstract

Abstract:

Attempted suicide represents a personal tragedy for the patient and their loved ones and can be a challenge for acute care physicians. Medical professionals generally view it as their obligation to aggressively treat patients who are critically ill after a suicide attempt, on the presumption that a suicidal patient lacks decision making capacity from severe psychiatric impairment. However, physicians may be confronted by deliberative patient statements, advanced directives or surrogate decision makers who urge the withholding or withdrawal of life sustaining treatments based on the patient’s underlying medical condition or life experience. How acute care providers weigh these expressions of patient wishes versus their own views of beneficence, non–maleficence and professional integrity poses a significant ethical challenge. This article presents a case that exemplifies the medical and ethical tensions that can arise in treating a patient following a suicide attempt and how to approach their resolution.