When patients lack capacity: The roles that patients with terminal diagnoses would choose for their physicians and loved ones in making medical decisions

Marie T. Nolan, Mark Hughes, Derek Paul Narendra, Johanna R. Sood, Peter B. Terry, Alan B. Astrow, Joan Kub, Richard E. Thompson, Daniel P. Sulmasy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Current approaches to end-of-life decision making are widely considered inadequate. We explored these complexities by examining how patients with terminal diagnoses would choose to involve their physicians and loved ones in making medical decisions, assuming they were able and unable to participate. Cross-sectional interviews of 130 patients recently diagnosed with fatal conditions were conducted. Patients were recruited from two academic medical centers using a modification of the Decision Control Preferences Scale, ranging from independent decision making to decision making that relies upon others. Patients were asked how they would balance their own wishes relative to the input of physician and loved ones in making medical decisions, and to weigh the input of loved ones relative to physician. Most patients (52%), assuming they had the capacity, would opt to share decision making with their physicians, but 15% would defer to their physicians and 34% would make decisions independently. Similarly, 44% would share decision making with their loved ones, but fewer (6%) would defer to their loved ones. Thirty-nine percent would rely upon their physicians' judgments about what would be best for them rather than their own wishes if they became unconscious, compared with 15% who would do so if they were conscious (P < 0.001). Nonetheless, patients were more likely to weigh their loved ones' input more heavily than their physicians' input if they were unconscious (33%) than if they were conscious (7%, P = 0.05). Race, religion, gender, diagnosis, and health status were largely unassociated with patients' decision control preferences. Patients with terminal diagnoses report a wide diversity of decision control preferences, but most would opt to share decision making with their physicians and loved ones. If unable to decide for themselves, they shift toward greater reliance on physician input relative to their own wishes but would weigh loved ones' input more heavily than physician input. Deciding for patients who cannot speak for themselves may be more complex than has previously been reflected in law, policy, or clinical ethics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)342-353
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Volume30
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2005

Keywords

  • Advance care planning
  • Decision making
  • End of life
  • Ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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