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Ethics of Forced Hospitalization

Forced hospitalization is a complicated ethical issue because while individuals have a right to their freedom and bodily integrity, it’s important to keep people safe in certain situations. There remains a difficulty in determining how forced hospitalization should operate, but the necessity of the practice is supportable with reference to various real-life situations.

Firstly, there are predators and immature individuals who make the choice to take illegal drugs or abuse prescription medications. Even if a person takes these medications knowingly and seeking to acquire a high, it’s important to recognize that they probably want to live. For example, someone who attempts a drug-caused suicide attempt should be hospitalized when necessary, even if they made a bad choice. Certainly, the most powerful defense of forced hospitalization is when it relates to those who were drugged against their wishes. People who are considered not to be of “sound mind” are generally candidates for forced hospitalization.

Risks related to adopting forced hospitalization have been pointed out by critics. For example, homelessness in major cities is a problem that often relates to mental illness. While ignoring these individuals previously, policies may be utilized to move homeless people out of an area in order to develop it, for major events, or for other reasons. Homelessness in the city of Vancouver is a serious issue and a variety of tactics were used to “manage” homelessness for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

However, even if certain mental health issues justify hospitalization, it’s difficult to form agreement on the circumstances where hospitalization should occur. For instance, some people are able to function well with mental illness, and even those who function poorly are often of little threat to society or themselves. Contrastingly, severely suicidal individuals would be clear cases where hospitalization is appropriate, but right to die advocacy would ask “for how long?” If a person is so miserable that they want to die and attempt to do so at every opportunity, how long can a hospital justify treatment if none produces any significant benefits? These are many worries held by opponents of forced hospitalization, especially those with mental illnesses.

Even if the right to die is respected amongst the mentally ill, there should be a reasonable amount of effort made to assist them. Ultimately, it will be a difficult if not incredibly subjective task to determine what is an acceptable period of time before someone can willingly die, but the gradual acceptance of euthanasia over time will require these issues to be tackled regardless. And ultimately, many suicidal individuals are not “of unsound mind.” Instead, they are ill and so miserable that the rational decision seems to be suicide. There may be a mix of poor judgment involved, but it’s unfair to consider all individuals irrational merely because they are thinking about an action the majority find inappropriate.

Overall, the goal of forced hospitalization should be the health and happiness of individual members, but the goal of society and the political realm should be to ensure that policies do not excessively infringe on the freedom and rights of individuals.