Better than Best (Interest Standard) in Pediatric Decision Making

 

Lainie Friedman Ross, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 30, no. 3 (Fall 2019): 183-95.

 

Healthcare decision making for children has adopted the best interest of the child standard, a principle originally employed by judges to adjudicate child placement in the case of parental death, divorce, or incompetence. Philosophers and medical ethicists have argued whether the best interest principle is a guidance principle (informing parents on how they should make healthcare decisions for their child), an intervention principle (deciding the limits of parental autonomy in healthcare decision making), or both. Those who defend it as only a guidance principle often cite the harm principle as the appropriate intervention principle. In this article, I challenge current use of the best interest principle in pediatric decision making as a guidance principle and as an intervention principle. I propose a model that I call constrained parental autonomy, which focuses on promoting and protecting the child’s primary goods or basic needs. I show that constrained parental autonomy can serve as both a guidance principle and an intervention principle in making decisions. I conclude by examining a case study involving bone marrow donation by a young child to her sister.

 

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