Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2011)

Authors
Louis C. Charland
PhD: University of Western Ontario
Abstract
In many Western jurisdictions, the law presumes that adult persons, and sometimes children that meet certain criteria, are capable of making their own health care decisions; for example, consenting to a particular medical treatment, or consenting to participate in a research trial. But what exactly does it mean to say that a subject has or lacks the requisite capacity to decide? This last question has to do with what is commonly called “decisional capacity,” a central concept in health care law and ethics, and increasingly an independent topic of philosophical inquiry.
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