Ethical and Legal Implications of Frailty Screening

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Frailty, Screening, Ethics, Law, Medicalization


Goals of screening for frailty include (a) promoting healthy aging, (b) addressing frailty with preventive and targeted interventions, (c) better aligning social and medical responses to frailty with the needs of frail older adults and (d) preventing harms to frail older adults from excessive and inappropriate medical interventions that are insensitive to the implications of frailty. However, the medicalization of frailty and outcomes of the screening process also risk harming frail older adults and their autonomy through stereotyping and by legitimizing denial of care. This risk of harm gives rise to ethical and legal questions and considerations that this paper addresses. Frailty screening that is ethically defensible will situate and support healthcare that is consistent with people’s needs, circumstances and capacity to benefit from the care provided. We also call for an informed consent process that incorporates supported or shared decision making in order to protect the autonomy of frail older adults.