June 22, 1984

Exposing Life-Support Systems to Mentally Incompetent Patients

Author Affiliations

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company New York

JAMA. 1984;251(24):3224. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340480018017

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


To the Editor.—  An employee recently told me that her mother was in the hospital with respiratory insufficiency requiring respirator support.A mentally incompetent patient was placed in the same room with the mother. When restrained, the incompetent patient caused great commotion; when unrestrained, she wandered about the floor into other patients' rooms and began tampering with equipment. This interference was usually intercepted by the staff. However, on one occasion, the mother's respirator was disconnected by the incompetent patient and the mother died.Physicians and hospital staff frequently must make difficult decisions about placement of patients, but the mentally incompetent must never be allowed access to vital life-support systems.