Competence to consent to voluntary psychiatric hospitalization: a test of a standard proposed by APA. American Psychiatric Association

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry

Publication Date


Document Type



Adult; Commitment of Mentally Ill; *Comprehension; Consent Forms; Disclosure; Female; *Guidelines as Topic; Humans; *Informed Consent; Male; Memory; *Mental Competency; *Mentally Ill Persons; Patient Advocacy; Psychiatry; Psychometrics; Reading; Societies, Medical; United States; *Volition


Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences


OBJECTIVE: In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1990 decision in Zinermon v. Burch, renewed attention has been given to capacities patients must have to be considered competent to consent to voluntary hospitalization. An American Psychiatric Association (APA) task force suggested that strong policy interests support the establishment of a low threshold for competence in this situation. The study examined whether, as previous research suggested, patients would have difficulty meeting even this lenient standard. METHODS: One hundred voluntarily hospitalized psychiatric patients were read two brief paragraphs, one explaining the purposes of psychiatric hospitalization and and the other explaining policies for discharge. The paragraphs' readability measured about eighth-grade level. After each paragraph, participants were read two sets of questions, one testing recall of the presented information and the other testing recognition of the information in a true-false format. The scores of patients grouped by selected demographic and clinical variables were compared. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The vast majority of patients were able to comprehend the information that the APA task force suggested was relevant to their decision. However, a subgroup of patients who were initially admitted involuntarily had significantly poorer performance and may constitute a group who need special educational efforts focused on the consequences of voluntary admission.

DOI of Published Version



Psychiatr Serv. 1998 Sep;49(9):1193-6.

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.)

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