Substituted Judgment, Best Interests, and the Need for Best Respect

Abstract

Perhaps the most troublesome medical decisionmaking cases facing state courts concern serious healthcare decisions involving patients with severe or profound retardation. The courts who face this issue encounter a difficult dilemma. A decision to terminate a medical treatment of a dependent, vulnerable person requires considerable solicitude. Allowing a helpless person to die sooner than is medically possible directly conflicts with that person's most basic right – the right to live. However, continuing treatment in the face of terminal illness may not only prolong but also increase intense mental and physical suffering. Perpetuating near torture in the name of protecting a person's life may be equally worrisome.

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