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‘Men in White Coats’: Treatment under Coercion


If you’re an ordinary medical or surgical patient – or any patient other than a psychiatric patient – you can refuse any treatment that is being offered to you if you don’t want it – even if the outcome might be grave. However, there is one situation where despite your refusing, you can be forced to have the treatment. If you are incapable of making a treatment decision due to an impairment or disturbance in the functioning of your mind, and the proposed treatment is in your ‘best interests’, then you can be treated involuntarily, against your will. ‘Best interests’ gives regard what you would choose according to your deep values and commitments and personal life goals. A disturbance in the functioning of your mind might be due, for example, to a stroke, a head injury, a serious infection or the confusion commonly experienced after an operation. Restraining people like this is common in medical practice.