The Paradox of Consent for Capacity Assessments

The Paradox of Consent for Capacity Assessments
Research Article
Peter Koch
The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, 19 January 2020
The use of decision-making capacity assessments (DMCA) in clinical medicine is an underdeveloped yet quickly growing practice. Despite the ethical and clinical importance of these assessments as a means of protecting patient autonomy, clinicians, philosophers, and ethicists have identified a number of practical and theoretical hurdles which remain unresolved.2 One ethically important yet largely unaddressed issue is whether, and to what extent physicians ought to inform and obtain consent from patients prior to initiating a capacity assessment. In what follows, I address the following question: Must, or should, physicians obtain consent for capacity assessments? I argue that physicians have an ethical obligation to obtain express patient consent for capacity assessments, and in doing so, I challenge the predominant view which requires physicians to merely inform patients without obtaining consent. I then identify an underlying philosophical paradox that complicates the clinician’s duty to obtain consent: in short, consent is needed for an assessment of one’s ability to consent. Finally, I recommend a practical solution to this paradox of consent for capacity assessments by proposing a model of double consent from both the patient and health care representative.

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