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Physicians’ personal values in determining medical decision-making capacity: a survey study


Decision-making capacity (DMC) evaluations are complex clinical judgements with important ethical implications for patients’ self-determination. They are achieved not only on descriptive grounds but are inherently normative and, therefore, dependent on the values held by those involved in the DMC evaluation. To date, the issue of whether and how physicians’ personal values relate to DMC evaluation has never been empirically investigated. The present survey study aimed to investigate this question by exploring the relationship between physicians’ value profiles and the use of risk-relative standards in capacity evaluations. The findings indicate that physicians’ personal values are of some significance in this regard. Those physicians with relatively high scores on the value types of achievement, power-resource, face and conformity to interpersonal standards were more likely to apply risk-relative criteria in a range of situations, using more stringent assessment standards when interventions were riskier. By contrast, those physicians who strongly emphasise hedonism, conformity to rules and universalism concern were more likely to apply equal standards regardless of the consequences of a decision. Furthermore, it has been shown that around a quarter of all respondents do not appreciate that their values impact on their DMC evaluations, highlighting a need to better sensitise physicians in this regard. The implications of these findings are discussed, especially in terms of the moral status of the potential and almost unavoidable influence of physicians’ values.

  • Autonomy
  • Capacity
  • Ethics
  • Informed Consent
  • Paternalism

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