HEC Forum

Assessing Decision-Making Capacity: A Primer for the Development of Hospital Practice Guidelines

Decision making capacity (DMC) is a fundamental concept grounding the principle of respect for autonomy and the practice of obtaining informed consent. DMC must be determined and documented every time a patient undergoes a hospital procedure and for routine care when there is reason to believe decision making ability is compromised. In this paper we explore a path toward ethically informed development and implementation of a hospital policy related to DMC assessment. We begin with a review of the context of DMC assessment before discussing some considerations relevant to policy creation by healthcare ethics committees. The discussion concludes in a presentation of a typology of capacity assessment policies, which draws upon a sampling of currently used hospital policies to illustrate relevant ethical considerations.