Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 439–444 | Cite as

Decision-Making Capacity and Unusual Beliefs: Two Contentious Cases

Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law John McPhee (Law) Student Essay Prize 2016
  • Brent Hyslop
Critical Response


Decision-making capacity is a vital concept in law, ethics, and clinical practice. Two legal cases where capacity literally had life and death significance are NHS Trust v Ms T [2004] and Kings College Hospital v C [2015]. These cases share another feature: unusual beliefs. This essay will critically assess the concept of capacity, particularly in relation to the unusual beliefs in these cases. Firstly, the interface between capacity and unusual beliefs will be examined. This will show that the “using and weighing of information” is the pivotal element in assessment. Next, this essay will explore the relationship between capacity assessment and a decision’s “rationality.” Then, in light of these findings, the essay will appraise the judgments in NHS v T and Kings v C, and consider these judgments’ implications. More broadly, this essay asks: Does capacity assessment examine only the decision-making process (as the law states), or is it also influenced by a decision’s rationality? If influenced by rationality, capacity assessment has the potential to become “a search and disable policy aimed at those who are differently orientated in the human life-world” (Gillett 2012, 233). In contentious cases like these, this potential deserves attention.


Decision-making capacity Capacity assessment Refusal of treatment Health law 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bioethics CentreUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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