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April 24, 1995

Who Decides Who Decides?When Disagreement Occurs Between the Physician and the Patient's Appointed Proxy About the Patient's Decision-Making Capacity

Author Affiliations

Department of Family and Preventive Medicine University of California, San Diego 9500 Gilman Dr La Jolla, CA 92093-0622; San Diego

Arch Intern Med. 1995;155(8):793-796. doi:10.1001/archinte.1995.00430080018003

Advance medical directives are designed to allow a patient to choose a designated agent to make his or her medical decisions should the patient lose decisionmaking capacity. Problems can arise, however, in determining when and if the patient has lost the capacity to make such decisions.

We examine a case in which a man with end-stage acquired immunodeficiency syndrome was admitted to the hospital because his agent and family could no longer provide adequate health care at home. While the patient was hospitalized, a conflict about aggressive vs comfort care arose between his physicians and his agent and family, both sides claiming that they knew best what his health care wishes were. At present, there are no clear guidelines as to who evaluates decision-making capacity; therefore, this judgment often falls to psychiatrists or ethics committees or even to the courts. We offer a systematic approach to resolving these conflicts.