A Patient (Not) Alone

Lauren Sydney Flicker

This case analysis examines questions that arise when an ethically appropriate recommendation initially appears to be in conflict with the legally appropriate recommendation. The case involves a dying, incapacitated octogenarian who had friends who were willing to share her values, but not to make decisions on her behalf. These circumstances put the patient in the unique position of being legally considered a “patient alone,” but who was ethically like a patient with surrogates—distinctions that are crucial when making end-of-life decisions under the New York Family Health Care Decisions Act. A strict interpretation of the law initially seemed to be in conflict with an ethically appropriate outcome. By gaining a deeper understanding of the patient from those who cared about her, however, and by considering a broader interpretation of the law, an outcome was reached that worked within the framework of the law and honored the patient’s reported values.


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