Competence is a key concept in medical law but it is poorly understood by health care practitioners and lawyers alike. This article examines the current law of competence assessment in the context of cases where patients refuse treatment. It attempts to clarify the test of competence and to provide guidance as to when and how competence should be assessed. The article also suggests some areas for reform including a proposal for a statutory defence of uncertainty for those situations where a doctor treats a patient against his or her wishes, when that patient is arguably incompetent.

Stewart C, Biegler P. A Primer on the law of competence to refuse medical treatment. Australian Law Journal 2004; 78 : 325-342