Refusing treatment for mental illness: historical and ethical dimensions

Am J Psychiatry. 1980 Mar;137(3):329-31. doi: 10.1176/ajp.137.3.329.


The author summarizes the historical bases for overzealous intervention by physicians, noting the tensions among medical technology, nature as a healing force, and the physician's warrant to treat. He discusses John Mill's On Liberty and Gerald Dworkin's "Paternalism" and suggests that there are times when the intervention should be withheld, but never the care.

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Mentally Ill Persons*
  • Paternalism*
  • Patient Advocacy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Withholding Treatment*