Bioethics and Depression: How Antidepressants May Decrease a Patient’s Autonomy

Monica Lauren Maxino


Psychotherapy or the “talking cure” was developed by Sigmund Freud at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. From that starting point there have been many different types of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis that have branched out out of Freud’s original theory. The most commonly practiced branch in contemporary United States is Cognitive Behavior Therapy. In 2005 about 14.8 million American adults suffer from depression, and in that same year about 170 million prescriptions were made for antidepressants. Both antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy have been proven successful; but does treating mentally ill patients with antidepressants only deprive patients of autonomy or even dignity? Adjunct Research Fellow Paul Biegler, of Monash University’s Centre for Human Bioethics, states that this is indeed the case. Arguing in his text The Ethical Treatment of Depression, Biegler argues that physicians of depressed individuals would have a more indepth understanding of their patient with cognitive behavioral therapy; and in doing so would also promote in the patient their own autonomy. In this essay I will be drawing from Biegler’s text while also using Kantian and Utilitarian ethics to support Biegler’s position on cognitive behavioral therapy while also suggesting that antidepressants can be used to aid in a patient’s treatment but should not be the sole treatment. I will also be arguing that in changing the way and frequency antidepressants are prescribed, how a patient with depression can increase their own sense of embodiment and autonomy while a medical practitioner is also fulfilling their moral obligation to their patient.


Depression; Antidepressants; Autonomy

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