In an opinion paper published in this journal, Dr. Ely makes several statements on the legislation and clinical practice with regard to end-of-life care and organ donation in countries with a euthanasia law, that are not only untrue, but involve serious accusations, including the suggestion that physicians might no longer be on the side of healing, and murder. He insinuates that, now or in the near future, incapacitated patients could or will be euthanized for the purpose of organ harvesting, like they were used for protein food in some obscure science fiction novel. It will be clear to most readers that what Dr. Ely describes as imminent practice is indeed fiction.
OBJECTIVE: Despite the clinical, ethical, and legal magnitude of end-of-life decision-making, the capacity of terminally ill patients to make the medical decisions they often face is largely unknown. In practice, clinicians are responsible for determining when their patients are no longer competent to make treatment decisions, yet the accuracy of these assessments is unclear. The purpose of this study was to explore decision-making capacity and its assessment in terminally ill cancer patients.
METHODS: Fifty-five patients with advanced cancer receiving inpatient palliative care and 50 healthy adults were administered the MacArthur Competence Assessment Tool for Treatment (MacCAT-T) to evaluate decision-making capacity with regard to the four most commonly used legal standards: Choice, Understanding, Appreciation, and Reasoning. Participants made a hypothetical treatment decision about whether to accept artificial nutrition and hydration for treatment of cachexia. Participants' physicians independently rated their decision-making capacity.
RESULTS: Terminally ill participants were significantly more impaired than healthy adults on all MacCAT-T subscales. Most terminally ill participants were able to express a treatment choice (85.7%), but impairment was common on the Understanding (44.2%), Appreciation (49.0%), and Reasoning (85.4%) subscales. Agreement between physician-rated capacity and performance on the MacCAT-T subscales was poor.
CONCLUSIONS: The use of the MacCAT-T revealed high rates of decisional impairment in terminally ill participants. Participants' physicians infrequently detected impairment identified by the MacCAT-T. The findings from the present study reinforce the need for engagement in advance care planning for patients with advanced cancer.
The goal of this Fast fact is to explain the role of a surrogate decision maker, how to guide patients in the selection of a surrogate, and how decision making proceeds if the patient has never selected a surrogate before becoming incapacitated.
Medicine aims to relieve patient suffering and cure illness. To relieve suffering is the heart of what doctors do. However, respect for individual autonomy and self-determination are fundamental principles in Western medical ethics and decision-making, often expressed as a desire for control over the timing and manner of death. Patients who become demented often formulate advance euthanasia and assisted suicide directives. Dealing with such request is quite complex because of the specific medical and conflicting ethical questions they raise. Some specific medical and ethical issues arise regarding these substantive requirements when evaluating the euthanasia request of a person suffering from dementia. In jurisdictions that allow euthanasia, the most fundamental prerequisite for a person to make autonomous decisions is capacity. Whether anyone with moderate or severe dementia, and even some with mild dementia, could be deemed to be competent by these criteria is debatable, but during the course of their disease people with dementia sooner or later lose their capacity to make self-determined decisions.