Is it ever permissible to force medical treatment on a patient against their will? What if they are so emotionally distraught that they can’t think straight? What if they might die without the treatment?
What is it
In our healthcare system, parents normally make medical decisions for their kids because, we think, children are not competent to make such decisions for themselves. Similarly, we permit doctors to violate or defer consent for mentally incompetent adults. But where do we draw the line for what constitutes ‘incompetence’? Should severely depressed patients, for example, have the right to decide for themselves whether or not they want treatment? What makes a patient so incompetent, they should be precluded from making their own decisions? John and Ken consent to talk to Jodi Halpern from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, author of From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice.