Rivers in practice: clinicians' assessments of patients' decision-making capacity

Hosp Community Psychiatry. 1989 Nov;40(11):1159-62. doi: 10.1176/ps.40.11.1159.


Since the Rivers v. Katz decision in 1986, clinicians in New York State have been required to assess patient decision-making capacity before judicial review of petitions to administer involuntary medication. The authors examined 42 capacity assessments made by psychiatrists at a large state hospital in New York City. Although the capacity assessments were often incomplete and rarely addressed the treatment decision, most clinicians judged patients as lacking capacity to make treatment decisions. The findings suggest that psychiatrists may view capacity assessments as irrelevant because of the manifestly grave nature of patients' illnesses or may not differentiate the capacity assessment from the mental status examination. The capacity assessment may nonetheless be a useful tool because it encourages clinicians to discuss the proposed treatment with patients and to present information more effectively in court.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Expert Testimony / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric
  • Hospitals, State
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Mentally Ill Persons*
  • Middle Aged
  • New York
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Patient Education as Topic / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Psychotic Disorders / drug therapy
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy


  • Psychotropic Drugs