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When uncertainty is a symptom: intolerance of uncertainty in OCD and ‘irrational’ preferences
  1. Jared Smith
  1. Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA
  1. Correspondence to Jared Smith, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA; smith.jaredn{at}

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In ‘Patients, doctors and risk attitudes,’ Makins argues that, when physicians must decide for, or act on behalf of, their patients they should defer to patient risk attitudes for many of the same reasons they defer to patient values, although with a caveat: physicians should defer to the higher-order desires of patients when considering their risk attitudes. This modification of what Makins terms the ‘deference principle’ is primarily driven by potential counterexamples in which a patient has a first-order desire with one risk attitude (either risk-seeking or averse) and a second-order desire that this risk attitude not be effective in guiding their choices.1

There are two reasons we might think people with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) are particularly relevant patients for evaluating Makins’ proposal. Not only might their first-order risk attitudes be irrational, but many people with OCD also judge their own OCD behaviours to be excessive or unwarranted making them structurally similar to the counterexamples outlined above. Yet, I argue that recent research about risk and decision-making under uncertainty for those with OCD complicates Makins’ proposal by raising questions of whether and to what degree their risk attitudes are irrational such that they should not play a part in the surrogate decisions made by physicians. This places more …

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  • Contributors JS is sole author of this proposal and the resulting commentary.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.