What constitutes a psychiatric emergency: clinical and legal dimensions.
In true medical emergencies, informed consent is presumed or implied without application of the usual standard. In the litigation over the right to refuse treatment in psychiatry, a limited right for involuntarily committed patients to refuse treatment has been upheld, absent a finding of a psychiatric emergency. Increasingly, clinicians may find that their sole extrajudicial option in instituting treatment over the patient's objection is in invoking a psychiatric emergency. The purpose of this communication is to discuss the clinical and legal issues in defining and invoking a psychiatric emergency in treatment refusal. The substantive and procedural issues in the use of the emergency exception in treatment refusal are discussed with recommendations for their use in clinical practice.
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