Presumed consent: licenses and limits inferred from the case of geriatric hip fractures
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CitationBernstein, Joseph, Drake LeBrun, Duncan MacCourt, and Jaimo Ahn. 2017. “Presumed consent: licenses and limits inferred from the case of geriatric hip fractures.” BMC Medical Ethics 18 (1): 17. doi:10.1186/s12910-017-0180-2. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12910-017-0180-2.
AbstractBackground: Hip fractures are common and serious injuries in the geriatric population. Obtaining informed consent for surgery in geriatric patients can be difficult due to the high prevalence of comorbid cognitive impairment. Given that virtually all patients with hip fractures eventually undergo surgery, and given that delays in surgery are associated with increased mortality, we argue that there are select instances in which it may be ethically permissible, and indeed clinically preferable, to initiate surgical treatment in cognitively impaired patients under the doctrine of presumed consent. In this paper, we examine the boundaries of the license granted by presumed consent and use the example of geriatric hip fracture to build an ethical framework for understanding the doctrine of presumed consent. Discussion The license to act under presumed consent requires three factors: patient incapacity, clinical urgency and clarity on the correct course of action. All three can apply to geriatric hip fracture. The typical patient frequently lacks capacity. Delays in initiating surgical treatment are associated with markedly increased mortality rates. Last, there appears to be consensus that surgery is the preferred treatment. Nonetheless, because there is a window of safe delay during which treating physicians can stabilize the patient, address reversible causes of cognitive impairment and identify surrogate decision makers, presumed consent should be invoked only as a method of last resort. Conclusions: A medical situation need not be characterized by risk of imminent and certain death for presumed consent to be relevant. Rather, there are two distinct windows that must be considered: the time interval in which action may be delayed without danger, and the time interval needed to obtain a better form of consent. Presumed consent is appropriate only when the latter exceeds the former.
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