Are you mentally competent enough to make vital decisions? Moreover, who gets to say if you are? These are some the questions I and other students in my neuroethics class were faced with while reading the case of man who had survived a life-threatening fire which had burned over 60% of his body. The wounds left by the accident left Don Cowart with in excruciating pain, so excruciating that he asked for his treatment to be stopped so he could die. Despite all his pleas, his request was rejected on the grounds that he was mentally incompetent. But really how do you judge if a person is capable of making, and be held accountable for certain decisions?
Turns out that a mere mental or physical diagnosis in and of itself is not sufficient to deem a person mentally incompetent. Rather, according to the Due Process in Competency Determinations Act, the proof of a cognitive impairment in either alertness or attention, information processing, thought processes, the ability to modulate mood and affect, should first be diagnosed by a neuropsychologist. However most psychometric tests used by neuropsychologist compare individual results to the general population's, which speaks to relativeness of the definition of mental competency. How mentally competent you are simply depends on how well you measure up to others. So should a child, obtaining scores comparable to an adult's, be held accountable for his/her actions and decisions? Could this child be considered an adult? These are some of the questions this process raises to my mind.