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Precedent Autonomy and Surrogate Decisionmaking After Severe Brain Injury

Authors
  • GRAHAM, MACKENZIE
Type
Published Article
Journal
Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Publisher
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
Oct 01, 2020
Volume
29
Issue
4
Pages
511–526
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1017/S0963180120000286
PMID: 32892770
PMCID: PMC7525111
Source
PubMed Central
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

Patients with disorders of consciousness after severe brain injury need surrogate decision makers to guide treatment decisions on their behalf. Formal guidelines for surrogate decisionmaking generally instruct decision makers to first appeal to a patient’s written advance directive, followed by making a substituted judgment of what the patient would have chosen, and lastly, to make decisions according to what seems to be in the patient’s best medical interests. Substituted judgment is preferable because it is taken to preserve patient autonomy, by using a patient’s past wishes and values to reconstruct what they would have chosen for themselves. In this paper, the author argues that for a certain population of patients, the standard interpretation of substituted judgment cannot ensure the preservation of patient autonomy. Patients with “covert awareness” may continue to have values and an authentic sense of self, which may differ from their past values and wishes. Accordingly, surrogate decision makers should make decisions based on how the patient is likely to experience their condition in the present, rather than their past wishes and values.

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