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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Who Decides When a Patient Can’t? Statutes on Alternate Decision Makers

Erin S. DeMartino and others
The New England Journal of Medicine
DOI: 10.1056/NEJMms1611497

Many patients cannot make their own medical decisions, having lost what is called decisional capacity. The estimated prevalence of decisional incapacity approaches 40% among adult medical
inpatients and residential hospice patients and exceeds 90% among adults in some intensive care
units.3,4 Patients who lack capacity may guide decisions regarding their own care through an
advance directive, a legal document that records treatment preferences or designates a durable
power of attorney for health care, or both. Unfortunately,the rate of completion of advance directives
in the general U.S. population hovers around 20 to 29%, creating uncertainty about who will
fill the alternate decision-maker role for many patients.

There is broad ethical consensus that other persons may make life-and-death decisions on
behalf of patients who lack decisional capacity. Over the past few decades, many states have enacted
legislation designed to delineate decisionmaking authority for patients who lack advance directives. Yet the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia vary in their procedures for appointing and challenging default surrogates, the attributes they require of such persons, their priority ranking of possible decision makers, and dispute resolution. These differences have important implications for clinicians, patients, and public health.

The article is here.