The Ethical Implications of Involuntary Treatment for Substance Abuse

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10/18/2011
Philosophy 235

The Ethical Implications of Involuntary Treatment for Substance Abuse

Every time health professionals claim to speak for the rights of others many questions arise within the bioethical community. Although altruism is a motivating mechanism of selfless care for others, it may have a dark side. Involuntary treatment for alcohol and drug abuse is a controversial tool used in medical care. The question of whether or not such treatment can be applied has been an unresolvable issue in bioethics for many years. Main ethical concerns often address questions of patient’s autonomy and health, doctor’s paternalism, and social wellbeing (Sjostrand and Helgesson 2008). The complex and multidimensional issue of coercion gave rise to debates among medical professionals. Some see substance abuse treatment as a professional’s right that can be applied when necessary, and others who see it as an autonomous choice of a patient. The resolution of the conflict between imposed coercion and patient’s self-determination is a main focus of involuntary treatment dilemma.

Addiction is a stigmatized problem with no legally regulated treatment standards on the federal level. Commonly, substance abuse is viewed as a personal choice, a lack of will power rather than a disorder (Galon and Liebelt 1997). This misconception plays an important role in how the problem of involuntary treatment is perceived by society. Use of alcohol and drugs has devastating effects on afflicted individuals, their families, and society in general. Crime level, DUI accidents, family violence, budget spending on treatment programs are just some of many social issues closely associated with substance abuse. Addicted individuals often fail to get an education or a job and are marginalized by society. At the same time, most of them face psychological and physiological issues and require medical assistance. However, people with addiction problems may frequently believe that they...
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