Abstract

The standard approach to treatment decision making for incapacitated patients often fails to provide treatment consistent with the patient’s preferences and values and places significant stress on surrogate decision makers. These shortcomings provide compelling reason to search for methods to improve current practice. Shared decision making between surrogates and clinicians has important advantages, but it does not provide a way to determine patients’ treatment preferences. Hence, shared decision making leaves families with the stressful challenge of identifying the patient’s preferred treatment option. To address this concern, the present paper proposes to incorporate the use of a “Patient Preference Predictor” (PPP) into the shared decision-making process between surrogates and clinicians. A PPP would predict which treatment option a given incapacitated patient would most likely prefer, based on the individual’s characteristics and information on what treatment preferences are correlated with these characteristics. Use of a PPP is likely to increase the chances that incapacitated patients are treated consistent with their preferences and values and might reduce the stress and burden on their surrogates. Including a PPP in the shared decision-making process therefore has the potential to realize important ethical goals for making treatment decisions for incapacitated patients. The present paper justifies this approach on conceptual and normative grounds.

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