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Medscape J Med. 2008;10(10):237. Epub 2008 Oct 14.

Incompetent patients, substitute decision making, and quality of life: some ethical considerations.

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  • 1Department of Philosophy, Centre on Aging, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.


One of the most difficult situations facing physicians involves decision making by substitute decision makers for patients who have never been competent. This paper begins with a brief examination of the ethics of substitute decision making for previously competent patients. It then applies the results to substitute decision making for patients who have never been competent, and critically analyzes 5 models of substitute decision making for such patients, showing why each either contravenes basic ethical principles or fails to guarantee the use of ethically appropriate values. It concludes by sketching a modified objective reasonable person standard for substitute decision making that avoids valuational difficulties and allows for a protocol that satisfies ethical principles.

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