Is hypothetical consent a substitute for actual consent?


The so-called Substituted Judgment Standard is one of several competing principles on how certain health care decisions ought to be made for patients who are not themselves capable of making decisions of the relevant kind. It says that a surrogate decision-maker, acting on behalf of the patient, ought to make the decision the patient would have made, had the latter been competent. The most common way of justifying the Substituted Judgment Standard is to maintain that this standard protects patients’ right to autonomy, or self-determination, in the situation where they are no longer able to exercise this right on their own. In this paper we question this justification, by arguing that the most commonly suggested moral reasons for allowing and encouraging people to make their own choices seem not to apply when the patient’s decision-making is merely hypothetical. We end with some brief sketches of possible alternative ways of justifying the Substituted Judgment Standard



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