Date Presented

Spring 5-1-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Nicolas Frank Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Laura Kicklighter Ph.D.

Third Advisor

David Freier Ph.D


Within the last few decades, modern medical regulations have brought the practicing medical community to an unprecedented level of accountability. Laws and regulations governing the practice of medicine were once, at best, loosely enforced guidelines; practices such as experimental surgeries, dangerous health testing, end of life care, and treatment of mental illness were left comparatively unregulated. The introduction of patient rights and new standards for practicing have left the medical community with a novel dilemma: how might one approach a patient who, according to medical advice, is in need of treatment if that patient is unable to express preference or give valid consent? The intent of this thesis is to evaluate the ethical nature of forced treatment under such circumstances, specifically in cases of psychological impairment. This will require a comprehensive review and consideration of ‘autonomy’; a determination of what is required for a person to be considered ‘autonomous’ and a discussion of whether and when it might be morally permissible to violate an individual’s ‘autonomy.’ This is required so that a solid foundation may be formed in deciding what is and is not a transgression of an individual’s rights. Furthermore, an evaluation of ethical theory is required, particularly Rights Theory and three ethical principles that are often considered in bioethical determination: beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. Neglecting to establish rules or guidelines for the administration of healthcare for differently abled individuals or those with other cognitive impairments leaves open the potential that doctors practicing excessive, experimental, or unhelpful medical treatments would be addressed with inappropriate arbitrariness or leniency. After a review of autonomy is complete, followed by the critiques of the preferred ethical devices, I will then consider the nature of forced treatment and form a conclusion regarding its moral status. The latter half of this thesis presented a proposal for appropriate uses of forced treatment, and a defense will be presented regarding when and on what grounds forced treatment may be deemed a permissible practice despite its arguably non-moral status.