Pediatric Decision Making: Ross, Rawls, and Getting Children and Families Right

Journal of Clinical Ethics 30 (3):240-46 (2019)
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What process ought to guide decision making for pediatric patients? The prevailing view is that decision making should be informed and guided by the best interest of the child. A widely discussed structural model proposed by Buchanan and Brock focuses on parents as surrogate decision makers and examines best interests as guiding and/or intervention principles. Working from two recent articles by Ross on “constrained parental autonomy” in pediatric decision making (which is grounded in the Buchanan and Brock model), I discuss (supportively) features of Ross’s effort visa-vis the best interest standard. I argue that any pediatric decision-making model that brackets or formally limits an engagement with the child patient assumes too much. Further, any model that under appreciates the place of parents and their autonomy, and the dynamic parent-child relationship, misses an opportunity to broaden the clinical encounter by considering questions of justice for the child (Rawls) and within a family (Ross). In this context, I focus on the child’s emerging and ongoing emotional and intellectual development and autonomy—their capabilities and identifying primary goods.

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