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

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competence capacity

Competence & Capacity

ISD II – Psychiatry

Nov. 12, 2002

Ethics/Humanities/Health Law

Andrew Latus*

*Some material stolen from Daryl Pullman and Barb Barrowman

  • Define competence and capacity
  • Discuss their ethical and legal significance
  • Consider how they apply in hard cases
a case of apotemnophilia
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.”
two questions
Two Questions
  • Two questions:
    • Would it be wrong for a surgeon to perform the amputation?
    • Would you perform the amputation?
capacity vs competence
Capacity vs. Competence
  • These terms are sometimes used interchangably, yet supposedly there’s a difference
  • What is it?
  • “[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
capacity vs competence7
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.
competence competence defined
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.
  • We’ll just talk of capacity for remainder of class
capacity for what
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
a logical point about capacity
A Logical Point About Capacity
  • If you’re worried about a patient’s 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 patient’s ability to refuse treatment for chemotheraphy but not his ability to accept it
    • This doesn’t make sense with regard to capacity
why does capacity matter
Why does capacity matter?
  • Two kinds of reason
    • Moral
    • Legal
moral reason 1 the importance of consent
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
moral reason 2 beneficence toward incapable patients
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
why does capacity matter legally
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.
aids to capacity assessment
Aids to Capacity Assessment
  • General impression of capacity from clinical encounter
  • Cognitive function testing, e.g., MMSE
  • Specific capacity assessment tools, e.g., ACE
mini mental state exam mmse
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
aid to capacity evaluation ace
Aid to Capacity Evaluation (ACE)
  • Clinician discloses information relevant to the treatment decision, then evaluates person’s ability to understand this information and appreciate the consequences of his/her decision
  • Developed at U of T’s Joint Centre for Bioethics
  • Based on Ontario’s Consent to Treatment Act
  • Prompts clinicians to probe 7 relevant areas, provides sample questions and scoring
seven areas to consider
Seven Areas to Consider
  • Ability to understand medical problem
  • Ability to understand proposed treatment
  • Ability to understand alternatives (if any)
  • Ability to understand option of refusing treatment
  • Ability to appreciate reasonably foreseeable consequences of accepting proposed treatment
  • Ability to appreciate reasonably foreseeable consequences of refusing proposed treatment
  • Ability to make decision not substantially based on delusions or depression
some strengths weaknesses
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
when to consider expert assessment
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
trying out the a c e mr g
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
assessing mr g
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
applying the a c e to mr a
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)
a final thought about capacity
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 Jehovah’s 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?