In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Studying Penguins to Understand Birds
  • Jacinta O. A. Tan (bio), Anne Stewart (bio), Ray Fitzpatrick (bio), and Tony Hope (bio)

anorexia nervosa, treatment decision-making, competence, values

We are grateful to Grisso, Appelbaum, Charland, and Vollmann for their thoughtful commentaries on our paper. We would like to respond by picking up on some of the points they make, although we do not address all the issues raised.

Our general aims in the paper are less immediately pragmatic than are the central concerns of Grisso and Appelbaum. Our interest is primarily in a number of ethical, and related conceptual, issues that arise from empirical data. In the long run, of course, we believe that these ethical and conceptual issues are important to the care of people with mental disorders, but our focus is philosophical.

Our central interest is what justifies overriding treatment refusal. We are unhappy with a "status" approach according to which, for example, the mere fact that a person suffers a mental disorder provides grounds for overriding her wishes. Such an approach, it seems to us, fails to identify reasons, and discriminates against those with mental disorder, a view shared by the Law Commission (The Law Commission 1995). We are, on the other hand, attracted by the approach that grounds any overriding of treatment refusal on lack of capacity (or competence) to make treatment decisions. The concept of capacity has been well developed through legal cases and conceptual analysis, not least by Grisso and Appelbaum themselves. We were struck, however, first through clinical experience, and subsequently from the pilot study reported in our paper, that many patients with anorexia nervosa who refuse treatment do not necessarily lack capacity, using the current criteria, and yet show features or give reasons that raise serious doubts as to whether it is right to respect their refusal of treatment.

To avoid reliance on a "status" approach, the issue with which we are grappling is whether the concept of capacity (and therefore lack of capacity) can be developed to encompass some of our findings, and whether it is ethically right to do so. Charland makes the important point that the concept of competence, or capacity, has both a descriptive and a prescriptive component. It is for this reason that the question of whether, for example, we should extend the criteria for capacity is part of the question of when it is morally right to override treatment refusal.

Grisso and Appelbaum suggest that our work advances "our thinking about appreciation, rather than requiring that we add new elements" (2006, 297). From our perspective, and at this stage, it is a secondary issue whether we are suggesting a development of appreciation, or a new element (e.g., "pathological values"). The primary issue for us is whether the reasons for refusal to which we draw attention provide grounds for overriding refusal, and if they do how they can be characterized in [End Page 299] such a way as to avoid the ever-present danger of simply overriding autonomy in a patient's best interests.

We chose to study anorexia nervosa for various reasons, but we expect that the issues raised have a more general relevance (such as to substance abuse and impulse control disorders as Grisso and Appelbaum and Charland suggest). We do not expect the results to be relevant to all, or even most, mental disorders. Our main interest is not the specific management of people with anorexia, but how the data challenge, and help to develop, the concept of capacity, and the ethical analysis of overriding patient refusal of treatment. Our paper aims to address what we understand Charland to be referring to by the "pretheoretical desiderata" (2006, 283) of the concept of capacity. One reason why we chose anorexia as the focus of this work is because it is different from many mental disorders in the issues that it raises. In this it is, perhaps, rather like studying penguins to better understand the concept of bird just because penguins, although clearly birds, have unusual features.

We agree, therefore, with Grisso and Appelbaum's caution that it would be unwise to jump in and change the MacCAT-T on the basis of the results...


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pp. 299-301
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