April 20, 2024

Cotard’s Syndrome and bioethics

What if a patient thinks they are already dead?

Bioethicists spend a lot of time writing about patients who want to die. But what about those who think they are already dead?

Cotard’s Syndrome is a rare mental condition that has among its symptoms delusions of being dead or not existing, and the sensation that one’s blood and internal organs are putrefying. The condition, which is typically found in people already suffering from mood or psychotic disorders, has received significant attention in the popular media, in addition to being the subject of various interdisciplinary enquiries.

The condition is believed to be associated with cognitive-malfunction in regard to awareness of one’s person and body.

The Syndrome has significance for the field of philosophy, and in particular, understanding the popularity of sceptical lines of thought in the history of ideas. The condition may also may provide significant insights for the development of artificial intelligence technology, as was highlighted in a recent article in Quartz.

At a practical level, the Syndrome presents a salient example of when clinicians would be warranted in overriding a patient wishes for the cessation of treatment. Though in a bioethical climate where mental illness is being removed as an obstacle to euthanasia, it might perhaps be interesting to see how bioethicists treat a case of severe and incurable Cotard Syndrome.

Cotard’s Syndrome and bioethics
Xavier Symons
Creative commons
mental illness