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Ann Neurol. 2014 Aug;76(2):296-304. doi: 10.1002/ana.24209. Epub 2014 Jul 9.

Inability to consent does not diminish the desirability of stroke thrombolysis.

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Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA.



Some have argued that physicians should not presume to make thrombolysis decisions for incapacitated patients with acute ischemic stroke because the risks and benefits of thrombolysis involve deeply personal values. We evaluated the influence of the inability to consent and of personal health-related values on older adults' emergency treatment preferences for both ischemic stroke and cardiac arrest.


A total of 2,154 US adults age ≥50 years read vignettes in which they had either suffered an acute ischemic stroke and could be treated with thrombolysis, or had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and could be treated with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Participants were then asked (1) whether they would want the intervention, or (2) whether they would want to be given the intervention even if their informed consent could not be obtained. We elicited health-related values as predictors of these judgments.


Older adults were as likely to want stroke thrombolysis when unable to consent (78.1%) as when asked directly (76.2%), whereas older adults were more likely to want cardiopulmonary resuscitation when unable to consent (83.6% compared to 75.9%). Greater confidence in the medical system and reliance on statistical information in decision making were both associated with desiring thrombolysis.


Older adults regard thrombolysis no less favorably when considering a situation in which they are unable to consent. These findings provide empirical support for recent professional society recommendations to treat ischemic stroke with thrombolysis in appropriate emergency circumstances under a presumption of consent.

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