A primary goal of clinical practice is to respect patient autonomy. To promote this goal for patients who have lost the ability to make their own decisions, commentators recommend that surrogates make their treatment decisions based on the substituted judgment standard. This standard is commonly interpreted as directing surrogates to make the decision the patient would have made in the circumstances, if the patient were competent. However, recent commentators have argued that this approach—attempting to make the decision the patient would have made if competent—is theoretically problematic, practically infeasible, and ignores the interests of the patient9s family and loved ones. These commentators conclude that the substituted judgment standard should be revised significantly, or abandoned altogether. While this response would avoid the cited problems, it also would require substantial changes to clinical practice and would raise significant problems of its own. The present paper thus considers the possibility that the criticisms do not point to problems with the substituted judgment standard itself; instead, they point to problems with the way it is most commonly interpreted. This analysis suggests that the substituted judgment standard need not be dramatically revised or abandoned. Instead, it should be interpreted in a way that effectively promotes respect for the autonomy of incompetent patients. The ‘endorsed life’ interpretation described here helps clinicians and surrogates to achieve this important goal. To clarify this approach, we explain how it differs from three other recently proposed alternatives to the standard interpretation of the substituted judgment standard.