Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 July 2009
The ethical principle of respect for autonomy has come into its own In American medicine since World War II as equal in importance to the traditional medicomoral principles of nonmaleficence and beneficence. Respect for autonomy provides the ethical underpinning for the patient's right to exercise an informed choice – whether to consent to or to refuse recommended medical treatment. However, an informed choice demands a certain level of competence. Typical criteria for patient competence to accept or to refuse medical treatments Include ability to make a choice and ability to comprehend the nature of the treatment, as well as the risks and benefits of accepting or refusing the treatment.
3. For the purpose of this paper, “competence” is used in the legal sense of “capacity for consenting or refusing medical treatment” and not in the legal sense of competence to continue to manage one's affairs, as in a conservatorship proceeding. In California, capacity for treatment decisions is generally defined as the ability to understand the nature and consequences of treatment to which one is asked to consent or the refusal of that treatment. California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. Consent Manual. 19th ed.Sacramento: California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. 1992:15Google Scholar.
4. California Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 5326.7.
5. An individual can be held involuntarily if the individual is a danger to self or others or gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder and can be treated for that mental disorder. The procedure to justify such involuntary treatment increases as the length of stay, i.e., 72 hours, 14 days, 14 more days. California Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 5150 et seq.
9. For example, in California an individual may retain the right to make medical decisions even when a conservator has been appointed to make financial and other decisions for the individual. California Probate Code, Section 2354.
10. See note 3. California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. 1992:Chapter 5.3.
11. 179 Cal. App. 3d 1127 (1986).
12. Conservator of Drabick, 200 Cal. App. 3d 185 (1988) – affirming the authority of the conservator to withdraw life-sustaining treatments.
15. See note 3. California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. 1992:Chapter 5.3.
16. Lawyers have often helped mental rights advocates, but mental rights advocates are not necessarily lawyers.
17. An initiative on the November 1992 ballot in California that would have allowed physician-assisted death was defeated. The Hemlock Society has stated that it intends to pursue another such ballot measure in California.