Pregnant women with major mental disorders present obstetricians with a range of clinical challenges, which are magnified when a psychotic or agitated patient presents in labor and there is limited time for decision making. This article provides the obstetrician with an algorithm to guide professionally responsible decision making with these patients. We searched for articles related to the intrapartum management of pregnant patients with major mental disorders, using 3 main search components: pregnancy, chronic mental illness, and ethics. No articles were found that addressed the clinical ethical challenges of decision making during the intrapartum period with these patients. We therefore developed an ethical framework with 4 components: the concept of the fetus as a patient; the presumption of decision-making capacity; the concept of assent; and beneficence-based clinical judgment. On the basis of this framework we propose an algorithm to guide professionally responsible decision making that asks 5 questions: (1) Does the patient have the capacity to consent to treatment?; (2) Is there time to attempt restoration of capacity?; (3) Is there an opportunity for substituted judgment?; (4) Is the patient accepting treatment?; (5) Is there an opportunity for active assent?; and (6) coerced clinical management as the least worst alternative. The algorithm is designed to support a deliberative, clinically comprehensive, preventive-ethics approach to guide obstetricians in decision making with this challenging population of patients.
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