Repetitive foreign body ingestion: ethical considerations

J Clin Ethics. 2013 Summer;24(2):91-7.


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.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / complications*
  • Eating
  • Ethical Analysis
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Foreign Bodies* / therapy
  • Health Care Rationing
  • Humans
  • Medical Futility*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Refusal to Treat / ethics*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Social Justice
  • Withholding Treatment / economics*