Year: 2020 Source: Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology. (2018). p 134-153. SIEC No: 20200494

Sometimes psychologists will defend their feeling that they ought to prevent a client from ending their life by highlighting that those who survive a suicide attempt usually report relief that they failed—a secular version of the “perils of hubris” argument of religious believers. But we know that whenever anyone makes a difficult choice, it is common if not typical that doubts remain, such that regret in itself does not justify us preventing others from acting on their decisions. Given all of this concern and controversy, many psychologists are surprised to learn that the current professional ethical and legal standards regarding suicide are not really all that complicated. We are expected to do what is reasonable under the circumstances and within the limits of our professional expertise to address whatever mental health issues are prompting our client to contemplate suicide. We are not required to intervene in every instance to prevent someone from killing themselves. Indeed, our primary ethical and legal obligation is to respect our clients’ autonomy to decide what they want to do with their lives. Preventing someone from killing themselves, provided they are competent to make the decision, is a violation of their autonomy and thus unethical, and in some instances is an assault and thus illegal. If our failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent or reduce a client’s risk of suicide contributes to the client’s death by suicide, we could be found professionally negligent. However, if we take all reasonable steps and our client still takes his or her own life, their suicide is not the result of our negligence.