Incompetent Adults and Consent to Treatment
Lancet. 1989 Feb 11; 1(8633): 340.
An Appeal Court review, brought by the Official Solicitor of Great Britain of a justice's declaration that sterilization of a mentally handicapped woman would not be unlawful only by reason of her incapacity to consent to it, is chronicled. In cases where the patient is not able to give an informed consent to any treatment, such as when the patient is unconscious or mentally incapable, the doctor's duty to preserve life remains paramount. In nonemergency situations court approval is required before procedures such as sterilization, abortion, organ donation, or experimental treatment can be carried out. If the House of Lords supports this holding, the medical profession will need to establish ethical guidelines that indicate the requirements for consultation with other doctors and disciplines and criteria for care of incompetents who cannot consent to treatment. (KIE abstract)