CV NEWS FEED // Jennifer Gaudiani, a Colorado doctor and eating disorder specialist, has made public in a medical paper that she has been directly involved in steering patients with eating disorders such as anorexia toward assisted suicide.
According to a lengthy investigation recently published by the Colorado Sun, Gaudiani’s paper was published in the February edition of the Journal of Eating Disorders. The paper explains why Gaudiani made the controversial decision to get involved in a team that facilitated the deaths of* three patients who suffered from what she described as “extreme cases” of anorexia nervosa.
The disease is a psychiatric condition that prevents patients from ingesting enough nutrients due to an irrational fear of gaining weight.
Colorado has a “mercy killing” law, which was passed in 2016. But the law does not allow assisted suicide for mental health conditions. Gaudiani argued that her intervention was nonetheless legitimate, since all three now-deceased patients she was involved with lived in states where assisted suicide under such conditions is legal.
According to the Colorado Sun report, Gaudiani’s decision to “help” patients with anorexia obtain aid-in-dying medication “is jolting the psychiatric community and sparking an emotional, national debate about the ethics of prescribing lethal drugs for people with mental illnesses.”
In the medical paper, the Colorado doctor identifies two patients only by their first names. The third, Alyssa Bogetz, co-wrote the paper, which was published after her death “because she felt so strongly about her right to take aid-in-dying medication,” Gaudiani told the Colorado Sun.
Despite Gaudiani’s arguments that assisted suicide should be available to this specific subset of people with a mental disorder, the Colorado Sun collected the opinions of several experts vehemently questioning the ethics of her approach.
“It is in direct contradiction to treating mental illness, promoting hope for recovery and improving quality of life for our patients,” said Dr. Angela Guarda, a psychiatrist from John Hopkins. Guarda also complained to the Sun that one of her patients “read the case study and deduced that she met the criteria as having ‘terminal’ anorexia.”
Another professional consulted by the Sun, Dr. Patricia Westmoreland, a Denver psychiatrist with years of experience treating anorexia patients, explained that she is now “hugely concerned” about suicide contagion among anorexia patients battling their eating disorder. “I’m also hugely worried about our other very vulnerable psychiatric patients who have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and all sorts of mental illnesses.”
Dr. Annette Hanson, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland, said that “historically, we do not declare people futile when it comes to psychiatric illnesses.” The “suggestion is a form of coercion,” Hanson added.
The experts also pointed at Gaudiani’s contradictory admission to the Sun: “I have patients who nearly died multiple times over the course of their illness who are now married and have children.”
*CORRECTION: This sentence originally read: “The paper explains why Gaudiani made the controversial decision to get involved in euthanizing three patients who suffered from what she described as ‘extreme cases’ of anorexia nervosa.” The story was updated to remove the impression that Dr. Gaudiani directly prescribed lethal medicine to all three patients in question.