Death, taxes and uncertainty: Economic motivations in end-of-life decision making

Clinical Ethics 17 (1):90-94 (2022)
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Abstract

Economic motivations are key drivers of human behavior. Unfortunately, they are largely overlooked in literature related to medical decisionmaking, particularly with regard to end-of-life care. It is widely understood that the directions of a proxy acting in bad faith can be overridden. But what of cases in which the proxy or surrogate appears to be acting in good faith to effectuate the patient’s values, yet doing so directly serves the decision-maker’s financial interests? Such situations are not uncommon. Many patients care as deeply about economic wellbeing of their families as they do for their own lives and health. This brief work examines three scenarios that raise ethical issues regarding the role of pecuniary motives in making critical medical decisions. Each scenario presents a potential financial conflict of interest between an incapacitated patient and a third-party decision-maker and offers a framework for integrating ethical and legal concerns into clinical care. It is our hope that this work prepares physicians for unexpected ethical conflicts of interest and enables them to further the interests of his or her patients.

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