On Transference in Ethics Facilitation: Recognizing and Working through the Past in Surrogate Decision Making


Robert M. Guerin


Clinical ethics consultants often confront the most difficult clinical encounters, typically in the setting of chronically critically ill patients and surrogate decision makers. These encounters require not only analytical skills but interpersonal skills as well. In this article, I focus on an interpersonal skill absent from the American Society for Bioethics and the Humanities Task Force’s Core Competencies for Healthcare Ethics Consultation. I introduce the psychoanalytic concept of transference and argue that knowledge and use of transference phenomena are sometimes indispensable for ethics consultation with surrogate decision makers. For solicitation of moral views, disclosure of relevant beliefs and values, and identification of the central ethical question—essential to assessment and analysis—cannot at times begin without recognition and working through of transference.



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