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Ethical issues in the prevention of suicide in prison

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Objective: The aim of this paper is to discuss ethical issues that arise in the care of suicidal patients within a prison context. Such a discussion provides a suitable framework for exploration of the broader question of how coercion may be exercised by psychiatrists in a morally justifiable, as opposed to abusive, manner.

Method: Literature relevant to the abuse of psychiatric power is reviewed. The means for immediate containment of highly suicidal patients in certain prison contexts is described and the paucity of relevant empirical research literature relating to this is identified. A framework is proposed to assist clinicians in making an ethical evaluation of coercive interventions that is applicable not only in the prevention of prisoner suicide, but also in the practice of psychiatry as a whole.

Results: Due regard for the moral dimensions of the relationship between psychiatrist and prisoner has the potential to radically transform the way the exercise of power is subjectively experienced by each of them.

Conclusion: Coercion can be exercised by psychiatrists within an ethical framework which is not abusive. There will always be a risk that coercion will become an unhealthy habit of life within which the psychiatrist feels too comfortable.
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Keywords: coercion; ethics; prisoner suicide; psychiatric abuse; strip cells

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1999-10-01

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