A Dilemma for Respecting Autonomy: Bridge Technologies and the Hazards of Sequential Decision-Making

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 47 (2):293-310 (2022)
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Abstract

Respect for patient autonomy can apply at two levels: ensuring that patient care reflects their considered values and wishes and honoring patient preferences about how to make momentous decisions. Caregivers who seek to respect patient autonomy in the context of some end-of-life decisions face a dilemma. Because these decisions are fraught, patients may prefer to approach them sequentially, only making decisions at the time they arise. However, respecting patients’ preferences for a sequential approach can increase the likelihood that surrogates and care teams wind up in situations in which they lack information needed to ensure patients receive care that conforms to their considered values after they are no longer competent to make decisions for themselves. Sequential decision-making can thus conflict with the goal of ensuring care reflects the wishes of patients. After illustrating how this dilemma can arise in the use of life-sustaining “bridge” technologies, we argue that care teams may be warranted in requiring patients to articulate their wishes in an advance care plan before treatment begins. In some cases, care teams may even be permitted to refuse to undertake certain courses of care, unless patients articulate their wishes in an advance care plan.

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Author Profiles

Alex John London
Carnegie Mellon University
Aidan Kestigian
Harvard University