How to Justify Enforcing a Ulysses Contract When Ulysses Is Competent to Refuse
Davis, John K.
Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 2008 March; 18(1): 87-106
Sometimes the mentally ill have sufficient mental capacity to refuse treatment competently, and others have a moral duty to respect their refusal. However, those with episodic mental disorders may wish to precommit themselves to treatment, using Ulysses contracts known as "mental health advance directives." How can health care providers justify enforcing such contracts over an agent's current, competent refusal? I argue that providers respect an agent's autonomy not retrospectively--by reference to his or her past wishes-and not merely synchronically--so that the agent gets what he or she wants right now-but diachronically and prospectively, acting so that the agent can shape his or her circumstances as the agent wishes over time, for the agent will experience the consequences of providers' actions over time. Mental health directives accomplish this, so they are a way of respecting the agent's autonomy even when providers override the agent's current competent refusal.
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