Some Unresolved Ethical Challenges in Healthcare Decision-Making: Navigating Family Involvement

Sumytra Menon*, Vikki A. Entwistle, Alastair V. Campbell, Johannes J.M. van Delden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Family involvement in healthcare decision-making for competent patients occurs to varying degrees in many communities around the world. There are different attitudes about who should make treatment decisions, how and why. Legal and professional ethics codes in most jurisdictions reflect and support the idea that competent patients should be enabled to make their own treatment decisions, even if others, including their healthcare professionals, disagree with them. This way of thinking contrasts with some cultural norms that put more emphasis on the family as a decision-making entity, in some circumstances to the exclusion of a competent patient. Possible tensions may arise between various combinations of patient, family members and healthcare professionals, and healthcare professionals must tread a careful path in navigating family involvement in the decision-making process. These tensions may be about differences of opinion about which treatment option is best and/or on who should have a say or influence in the decision-making process. While some relevant cultural, legal and policy considerations vary from community to community, there are ethical issues that healthcare professionals need to grapple with in balancing the laws and professional codes on decision-making and the ethical principle of respecting patients and their autonomy. This paper will highlight and propose that a partial resolution to these issues may lie in relational understandings of autonomy, which in principle justify interventions by healthcare professionals and family that support patients in decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-36
Number of pages10
JournalAsian Bioethics Review
Early online date5 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Competent patient
  • Decision-making
  • Family involvement
  • Relational autonomy


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