Issues of Ethics and Identity in Diagnosis of Late Life Depression

Ethics and Behavior 13 (3):249-262 (2003)
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Abstract

Depression is often diagnosed in patients nearing the end of their lives and medication or psychotherapy is prescribed. In many cases this is appropriate. However, it is widely agreed that a health care professional should treat sick persons so as to improve their condition as they define improvement. This raises questions about the contexts in which treatment of depression in late life is appropriate. This article reviews a problematic case concerning the appropriateness of treatment in light of the literature in bioethics. Specific attention is paid to the concept of authenticity and the role of suffering. Suffering is often the result of a situation in which one's self is damaged. In some circumstances, this suffering should not be seen as a symptom of illness but as a reflection, in a difficult life context, of the individual's authentic nature. Assessment of depression in the elderly must go beyond a symptom list and must consider both the context of the individual's situation and his or her authentic self. When the symptoms reflect the individual's assessment of the situation in the context of the authentic self, they may be "appropriate." However, even when the symptoms are appropriate, if they interfere with life assessment and adjustment, treatment should be considered.

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