Assessing Capacity in Psychiatric Patients With Acute Medical Illness Who Refuse Care

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Three cases are presented that demonstrate the difficulty of assessing medical decision-making capacity in patients with psychiatric illness who are refusing care. Health professionals often assess capacity differently in practice. Provided their patients have some understanding of their illness and have some plans for meeting basic needs, psychiatrists are often inclined to give patients the freedom to refuse care even if they do not exhibit a full understanding of the medical facts of their case and why they are refusing it. Adult medicine physicians, in contrast, are inclined to require patients to state a more complete understanding of the benefits and burdens of evaluation and treatment before allowing them to refuse care when their refusals might result in adverse medical outcomes. The 3 cases exemplify the tension between these approaches and highlight the role of hospital ethics consultation in addressing this conflict.

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2014;16(6):doi:10.4088/PCC.14br01666

https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.14br01666