Every month, Compassion & Choices Medical Director, Dr. David Grube, answers frequently asked questions about medical aid in dying.
Q: Are doctors qualified to assess mental capacity before a patient can make a valid request for medical aid in dying or do psychiatrists need to be involved?
A: Every physician is not only fully trained to assess the capacity of all of the patients they treat on a regular basis, but is also required to document this assessment in the medical record. Shared medical decision-making requires a patient be able to understand medication side effects, treatments, and procedures, etc. This is accomplished through informed consent, and is a typical component of most medical care. Medical aid in dying should not be subject to capacity assessment requirements beyond the standard of care for any other health care decision. If a physician is concerned about a patient’s ability to understand instructions, make appropriate decisions, etc., she or he may seek a neurologic or psychologic evaluation to help determine capacity.