Medical co-morbidities are very common in patients with psychiatric conditions. Although respecting one’s autonomy to make treatment decisions is the ethical default position, the capacity to make such decisions may need to be assessed, especially when patients are in relapse of their psychiatric condition, and/or when the decisions made are high-risk and possibly fatal. This case report highlights the ethical issues of refusing potential life-saving treatment in a patient who is in relapse of her schizoaffective disorder. In particular, the assessment of decisional capacity and the role of the doctors (if the patient lacks capacity) are discussed. Recommendations are also made on how to better manage such situations.
Ms T was a single, 41-year-old Chinese female who had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at the age of 21. Her illness was characterised by frequent relapses and admissions to hospital; the longest admission was for more than a year when she was 27 years old.
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