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Competence & Capacity ISD II – Psychiatry Nov. 12, 2002 Ethics/Humanities/Health Law Andrew Latus* *Some material stolen from Daryl Pullman and Barb Barrowman.

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Presentation on theme: "Competence & Capacity ISD II – Psychiatry Nov. 12, 2002 Ethics/Humanities/Health Law Andrew Latus* *Some material stolen from Daryl Pullman and Barb Barrowman."— Presentation transcript:

1 Competence & Capacity ISD II – Psychiatry Nov. 12, 2002 Ethics/Humanities/Health Law Andrew Latus* *Some material stolen from Daryl Pullman and Barb Barrowman

2 Objectives Define competence and capacity Discuss their ethical and legal significance Consider how they apply in hard cases

3 A Case of Apotemnophilia Apotemnophilia = desire for amputation (p. 285) Mr. A., 65 years old, wants to have a healthy limb amputated I am not happy with my present body, but long for a peg-leg.

4 Two Questions Two questions: Would it be wrong for a surgeon to perform the amputation? Would you perform the amputation?

5 Capacity vs. Competence These terms are sometimes used interchangably, yet supposedly theres a difference What is it?

6 Capacity [T]he ability to understand information relevant to a treatment decision and to appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of a decision or lack of a decision. (Bioethics for Clinicians) Really a definition of an adequate degree of capacity for medical decision making

7 Capacity vs. Competence Capacity refers to an ability having capacity Capacity comes in degrees Competence refers to a property or characteristic a person possesses being competent Competence (relative to a particular decision) is all or nothing.

8 Competence & Competence Defined Capacity = the degree to which one is able to understand the information relevant to a treatment decision and appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of a decision or lack of a decision. Competence = being able to understand information relevant to a treatment decision and to appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of a decision or lack of a decision. Well just talk of capacity for remainder of class

9 Capacity for what? Capacity is specific to a particular decision A person may possess the capacity to make some decisions but not others Capacity can change over time e.g. delirium, drugs, course of illness and treatment

10 A Logical Point About Capacity If youre worried about a patients capacity to refuse some treatment, you should also worry about his capacity to accept it Worries about capacity sometimes go away when the patient comes to accept our recommendation for treatment. E.g., we worry about the patients ability to refuse treatment for chemotheraphy but not his ability to accept it This doesnt make sense with regard to capacity

11 Why does capacity matter? Two kinds of reason Moral Legal

12 Moral Reason #1: The Importance of Consent Capable patients are, by definition, able to give informed consent to treatment The importance of informed consent is supported both by The principle of autonomy – respect for persons requires respecting their informed decisions The principles of beneficence/non-maleficence – generally, an informed patients is a good judge of what broad sort of treatment is in his/her best interest

13 Moral Reason #2: Beneficence Toward Incapable Patients An assessment of capacity helps us figure out what matters morally In the case of an incapable patient, we no longer have recourse to the principle of autonomy. The principles of beneficence/non- maleficence require that incapable people be protected from making decisions that are harmful or that they would not make if capable

14 Why does capacity matter legally? In law, capable patients entitled to make their own informed decisions If patient incapable, physician must obtain consent from designated substitute decision-maker Advance Health Care Directives Act (NL) Presumption of capacity for adults For minors, check provincial legislation on mature minors (NB), child welfare act, etc.

15 Aids to Capacity Assessment General impression of capacity from clinical encounter Cognitive function testing, e.g., MMSE Specific capacity assessment tools, e.g., ACE

16 Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE) Advantages Reliable Easy to administer Familiar Problem: Although cognition and capacity related, they are not identical Does not evaluate several cognitive functions (e.g., judgment, reasoning) that are relevant to capacity Does not address delusions

17 Aid to Capacity Evaluation (ACE) Clinician discloses information relevant to the treatment decision, then evaluates persons ability to understand this information and appreciate the consequences of his/her decision Developed at U of Ts Joint Centre for Bioethics Based on Ontarios Consent to Treatment Act Prompts clinicians to probe 7 relevant areas, provides sample questions and scoring

18 Seven Areas to Consider 1. Ability to understand medical problem 2. Ability to understand proposed treatment 3. Ability to understand alternatives (if any) 4. Ability to understand option of refusing treatment 5. Ability to appreciate reasonably foreseeable consequences of accepting proposed treatment 6. Ability to appreciate reasonably foreseeable consequences of refusing proposed treatment 7. Ability to make decision not substantially based on delusions or depression

19 Some Strengths & Weaknesses Strengths Clinically feasible, relatively quick Flexible Useful format for documentation Weaknesses Only as good as accompanying disclosure Difficulty of assessing impact of delusions or depression Factors may interfere with effective communication e.g. language barrier

20 When to Consider Expert Assessment If unsure of assessment If patient (or family) challenges finding If clinician suspects that a decision is based substantially on delusions or depression

21 Trying Out the A.C.E. – Mr. G. Mr. G. (see Bioethics for Clinicians) 42 years old Receiving treatment for chronic schizophrenia. Unemployed but functions independently in the community. Rarely leaves his apartment Believes that his neighbours break into his house and steal his money when he is out, Physician makes house call because Mr. G. is complaining of a sore throat Throat swab reveals an infection. Physician recommends antibiotic therapy

22 Assessing Mr. G Clinician explains that the pills are to treat the sore throat but may cause diarrhea or a rash. Asks Mr. G to review the information to ensure Mr. G: "You're giving me these pills to help my throat. If I get diarrhea or any skin problems I should stop and let you know." Decision to accept treatment is not based on a delusion, but on a desire for symptom relief. Clinician concludes Mr. G. has the capacity to accept treatment

23 Applying the A.C.E. to Mr. A Mr. A. has desired the peg-leg since at least age 10 (p. 288) Unconsciously such a peg-leg became synonymous with happiness… (288) the realization of [my desire for a peg-leg] has become indispensable for my personal happiness…(288-9) Naturally over the years I have thought of many arguments against amputation, have … considered them and rejected them... It is not normal. But what is normal and who is normal? (289) No one has the right to deny or keep me from this way of life. (289)

24 A Final Thought About Capacity When it comes to treating religious beliefs as delusions the numbers seem to count Most seem to think that adult Jehovahs Witnesses have the capacity to refuse, on religious grounds, treatment involving blood transfusions What about singular or rare religious grounds? E.g., what if Barney the Dinosaur, my personal saviour, tells me to seek an amputation? Are we consistent in thinking about religious reasons?


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