An individual's right to self-determination in treatment decisions is a central principle of modern medical ethics and law, and is upheld except under conditions of mental incapacity. When doctors, particularly psychiatrists, override the treatment wishes of individuals, they risk conflicting with this principle. Few data are available on the views of people regaining capacity who had their treatment wishes overridden.
To investigate individuals' views on treatment decisions after they had regained capacity.
One hundred and fifteen people who lacked capacity to make treatment decisions were recruited from a sample of consecutively admitted patients to a large psychiatric hospital. After 1 month of treatment we asked the individuals for their views on the surrogate treatment decisions they received.
Eighty-three per cent (95% CI 66–93) of people who regained capacity gave retrospective approval. Approval was no different between those admitted informally or involuntarily using Mental Health Act powers (χ2 = 1.52, P = 0.47). Individuals were more likely to give retrospective approval if they regained capacity (χ2 = 14.2, P = 0.001).
Most people who regain capacity following psychiatric treatment indicate retrospective approval. This is the case even if initial treatment wishes are overridden. These findings moderate concerns both about surrogate decision-making by psychiatrists and advance decision-making by people with mental illness.
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