Volume 24, Number 2, Summer 2013
Repetitive Foreign Body Ingestion: Ethical Considerations
Sarah Lytle, Susan J. Stagno, and Barb Daly
The treatment of persons who frequently present to the healthcare system following repetitive foreign body ingestion has been addressed in the psychiatric literature. However, there has been little exploration of the ethical considerations regarding the treatment of these patients. The complexity of their medical and psychiatric presentation raises fundamental ethical questions regarding the duty to treat, patient autonomy, justice, and futility. Careful ethical analysis is particularly important in this context, since the frustration that medical professionals may feel in response may lead to false assumptions that can negatively impact patient care. A careful exploration of these questions can increase awareness and understanding, which in turn can lead to improved treatment of patients who repetitively ingest foreign bodies. Care for patients who inflict self-harm, particularly by repetitive foreign body ingestion, is not futile. The patients have a right to treatment and are entitled to resources. Efforts should be made to provide a more comprehensive treatment approach to these patients.
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