University of Pittsburgh

Alan Meisel on Doctors' Responsibilites When Patient Lacks Decision-Making Capacity

Publish Date/Time: 
April 6, 2011

Professor Alan Meisel to American Medical News that a case in which a surgical patient showed signs of a lack of competency for decision making raises difficult questions for treating physicans and surgeons.  In a Montana case, doctors recommended life-saving surgery to save a woman from cancer, but she refused; a judge ordered her to undergo the surgery, finding the woman incompetent.  The Montana Supreme Court has stayed that ruling, pending appeal.  Professor Meisel said that although it is ultimately up to a judge to decide a patient's competency, "[i]f doctors have reason to believe a patient lacks decision-making capacity, they should do something" to bring it to the attention of appropriate authorities, he said. "It could be considered an abrogation of their duty to ignore it."


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