Informed Consent and Advance Care Directives: Cornerstones and Outstanding Issues in the Newly Enacted Italian Legislation

Informed Consent and Advance Care Directives: Cornerstones and Outstanding Issues in the Newly Enacted Italian Legislation
Gianluca Montanari Vergallo, Antonio G. Spagnolo
The Linacre Quarterly, 29 March 2019  
This article’s authors delve into, and comment on, some of the key provisions within law no. 219, passed in 2017, which came into full effect in 2018. The legislation presents several innovative aspects: (a) communication time is equated to care; (b) patients may turn down lifesaving treatments, yet doctors must put in place all suitable support processes, from a psychological standpoint as well, in order to make sure that patients make informed decisions in full awareness; (c) refusal to treatment may be expressed prior to the onset of the disease making the patient incapable, as long as the advance directive is laid out by a mentally capable adult who has been provided with all relevant medical information available as to the consequence of a refusal to undergo a given treatment; (d) artificial nutrition and hydration are tantamount to treatment; thus, they may not be carried out and kept in place in absence of valid consent; (e) patients may appoint a healthcare proxy holder, tasked with interacting with doctors and caregivers and expressing consent or refusal; (f) patient will, whether current or advance, must be complied with even under emergency or urgency conditions, provided that clinical conditions and circumstances make it possible to acquire it; (g) doctors may disregard advance directives only when specifically provided for by the law; (h) patients may not demand treatment deemed to be illegal or running counter to ethical codes or scientific evidence. The new legislation, therefore, is meant to uphold the right to exercise self-determination as well as the patient’s quality of life, yet ensuring that doctors remain fully capable of making the decisions that they are best positioned to.

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