Monday, June 11, 2007

The price of free will

Dr. Partovi found herself helpless trying to care for a dementia patient whose “heart failure was very treatable, but only if he would take his medications appropriately.”

[T]he hospital psychiatrist claimed that William knew his name and where he lived — and that he was very insistent on not being placed.

"But he can't take care of himself, he doesn't have food, he can't pay his bills, he won't take his medications," I replied. "It's his free will to not take his medications." Thus, he was deemed "fully competent."

Dr. Partovi tells the sad story of her patient William who eventually could barely breathe and still refused to go to the hospital. By the time he was taken to the emergency room, it was too late – he died that night.

In California it seems that people with dementia face the same standards for treatment intervention as do people with mental illnesses. William’s story may be a wake-up call for the millions of baby boomers who face the prospect that they or a loved one might become incapacitated by Alzheimer’s or dementia. Are we as a society finally going to care for all people who lack capacity to make medical treatment decisions? Or do we accept "free will" as the propaganda that allows us as taxpayers to avoid paying for proper treatment for these individuals?

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