DOI: 10.1177/14777509231216055 ISSN: 1477-7509

How clinicians can respond when family members question a proxy/surrogate's judgment and decisional capacity

Gregoire Calon, Katherine Drabiak
  • Philosophy
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)

Many state laws specify procedures for determining surrogate or proxy decision-makers for end-of-life care in the absence of an advance directive, living will, or other designation. Some laws also set forth criteria that the decision-maker must follow when making medical decisions for an incapacitated patient and determining whether to withdraw life-sustaining treatment. This article provides analysis of a medical ethics case on the question of how to address family allegations that the proxy decision-maker suffers from dementia and is unable to make decisions for the patient. Cases such as this involve interwoven legal and ethical considerations including: how to address concerns that the proxy is making questionable or unreasonable decisions, how to evaluate the proxy's decisional capacity, strategies for enhancing communication, and standards for removing a proxy. This article suggests that “surrogacy ladders” in state law serve not only as a procedural mechanism, but also protect important ethical values such as tiers of moral authority for decision-making, relational autonomy, and privacy.

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