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J Clin Ethics. 2019 Fall;30(3):207-212.

Decision Making on Behalf of Children: Understanding the Role of the Harm Principle.

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Professor at the University of Washington-Seattle and is Director of Education at the Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics at Seattle Children's Hospital in Seattle, Washington USA.


Thirty years ago, Buchanan and Brock distinguished between guidance principles and interference principles in the setting of surrogate decision making on behalf of children and incompetent adult patients. They suggested that the best interest standard could serve as a guidance principle, but was insufficient as an interference principle. In this issue of The Journal of Clinical Ethics, Ross argues that the best interest standard can serve as neither a guidance or interference principle for decision making on behalf of children, but that her model of constrained parental autonomy can serve as both. I will argue that Buchanan and Brock were correct that a single model or standard cannot serve as both a guidance and interference principle in pediatrics and that the best interest standard is a sufficient guidance principle. The harm principle fulfills the conditions necessary for an interference principle, at least insofar as deciding when state intervention to interfere with parental decision making is justified.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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