The therapeutic proportionality standard: a new content for the best interests standard

Autor:Fermín Jesús González-Melado - María Luisa Di Pietro
Cargo:Pontifical University of Salamanca, C/ Compañía 5, 37002, Salamanca, Spain - Medicine School Catholic University of Sacred Hearth, Rome, Italy
Páginas:19-42
RESUMEN

The standard of the patient’s best interests is the main bioethical standard used in the decision-making process that involves incompetent patients (i.e. neonatology, pediatric patients and incompetent adults). This standard has been widely criticized as being self-destructive, individualistic, vague, unknown, dangerous and open to abuse. With the purpose of defending it, several reforms of this... (ver resumen completo)

 
EXTRACTO GRATUITO
Cuadernos de BioétiCa. 2020; 31(101): 19-42
19
Palabras clave:
Estándar del
mejor interés,
futilidad, ordinario,
extraordinario,
tratamientos de
soporte vital.
Keywords:
The best interests
standard,
futility, ordinary,
extraordinary, life-
sustaining treatments.
Recibido: 10/12/2019
Aceptado: 25/02/2020
THE THERAPEUTIC PROPORTIONALITY
STANDARD: A NEW CONTENT FOR THE BEST
INTERESTS STANDARD
EL ESTÁNDAR DE PROPORCIONALIDAD TERAPÉUTICA:
UN NUEVO CONTENIDO PARA EL MEJOR INTERÉS ESTÁNDAR
FERMÍN JESÚS GONZÁLEZ-MELADO1*, MARÍA LUISA DI PIETRO2
1 Pontifical University of Salamanca, C/ Compañía 5, 37002, Salamanca - Spain
2 Medicine School Catholic University of Sacred Hearth – Rome - Italy
* email: fjgonzalezme@upsa.es
ABSTRACT:
The standard of the patient’s best interests is the main bioethical standard used in the decision-making
process that involves incompetent patients (i.e. neonatology, pediatric patients and incompetent adults).
This standard has been widely criticized as being self-destructive, individualistic, vague, unknown, dan-
gerous and open to abuse. With the purpose of defending it, several reforms of this standard have been
proposed, especially in the pediatric field. We propose a redefinition of the standard based on two con-
cepts: 1) medical futility as a negative criterion, and 2) the principle of proportionality as a positive crite-
rion. Our work includes a new relationship between concepts in classical moral theology (i.e. ordinary /
extraordinary; proportionate / disproportionate) applied to the bioethics of life-sustaining treatments for
incompetent patients.
RESUMEN:
El estándar del mejor interés del paciente es el único estándar bioético utilizado en los procesos de de-
cisión de tratamientos en enfermos no competentes (neonatología, pediatría y adultos no competentes).
Este estándar ha sido ampliamente criticado por autodestructivo, individualista, vago, desconocido, peli-
groso y abierto a abusos. Para defender el estándar se han propuesto varias reformulaciones especialmente
en el ámbito pediátrico. Nosotros proponemos una redefinición del estándar basada en dos conceptos: 1)
el de futilidad médica como criterio negativo, y 2) el principio de proporcionalidad como criterio positivo.
Nuestro trabajo incluye una nueva relación entre los conceptos de la teología moral clásica (ordinario /
extraordinario; proporcionado / desproporcionado) aplicados a la bioética de los tratamientos de soporte
vital en pacientes no competentes.
Cuadernos de Bioética. 2020; 31(101): 19-42
DOI: 10.30444/CB.50
Copyright Cuadernos de Bioética
Este trabajo se publica bajo una licencia de
Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 4.0 Internacional
Fermín Jesús González-melado, maría luisa di Pietro The TherapeuTic proporTionaliTy sTandard: a new conTenT for The besT inTeresTs sTandard
Cuadernos de BioétiCa. 2020; 31(101): 19-42
20
1. Introduction
The inclusion of the concept of patient autonomy
at the heart of medical ethics was the most striking
innovation in bioethics field1. From this moment, the
development of bioethics had as its nuclear objective to
defend individual autonomy through the informed con-
sent of the patient to treatment2. The informed consent
determined the bioethical frame of reflection for the
bioethical principles, established for a bioethics of adults
and competent patients3. At that time it was thought
that this framework could be extended to children and
other incompetent patients4.
The doctrine of informed consent requires three
elements: 1) that the decision is free, 2) informed and
3) that the person is competent5. The key concept of
competence divided patients into competent individuals
who can make autonomous decisions about a medical
treatment, and incompetent individuals who can`t make
decisions for themselves6.
Problems arise when patients are not competent:
who should decide for them? Buchanan and Brock rai-
sed the need for a theory of surrogate decision making
that could extend respect for the autonomy of the
competent autonomous patient to the incompetent pa-
tient7. Beauchamp and Childress proposed the applica-
tion of certain standards that, from the judicial context,
could be applied to the surrogated decision-making in
the medical field8. The bioethics of principles pointed to
four standards when making medical decisions9: 1) The
1 Cfr. Jonsen, A.R., A short history of medical ethics, Oxford
University Press, New York 2000.
2 Cfr. President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Prob-
lems in Medicine and Behavioral Research, Making health care
decisions, Washington DC, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982,
17-35.
3 Cfr. Beauchamp, T.L., Childress, J.F., Principles of biomedical
ethics, New York, Oxford University Press, 20086, 136.
4 Cfr. Buchanan, A.E., Brock, D.W., Deciding for others: The
ethics of surrogate decision-making, New York, Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 1989, 113.
5 Cfr. President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Prob-
lems in Medicine and Behavioral Research, Making health care…,
op. cit., 55.
6 Cfr. Buchanan, A.E., Brock, D.W., Deciding for others…, op.
cit., 27.
7 Idem, 87.
8 Cfr. Beauchamp, T.L., Childress, J.F., Principles of biomedical
ethics…, op. cit., 136.
9 Cfr. Kopelman, L.M., “Children: health care and research
issues”, in Post, S.G. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Bioethics, New York,
respect for the patient´s autonomy applies to the volun-
tary decisions of legally competent and informed adult
subjects who make their own choices about their well-
being as long as it does not harm or violate the rights
of others; 2) Advance directives or vital wills. Competent
persons can draft advance directives on their treatments
or verbally express what they would prefer in the case
that they become incapacitated. This standard is also
known as pure autonomy or precedent autonomy10; 3)
The third standard is that of the substituted or surroga-
ted judgment standard, which applies to an incompe-
tent patient but who was once able to express preferen-
ces; the person making this substitute decision chooses
the option that he/she believes the person would have
chosen if he or she was able to do so; 4) The standard of
the patient’s best interest is to identify the highest net
benefit among the various options available. This stan-
dard applies to pediatric neonatal patients, unqualified
minors, and incompetent adult patients11. Often, adults
have provided in advance their decisions regarding their
preferences in the form of an advanced directive or a
living will. Even in situations where they have not done
so, they often will have told the family what they would
prefer then to do if they were to become incapacitated.
In such cases, surrogate decision makers must apply the
principle of substituted judgement. The best interest
standard is the only guiding principle for medical deci-
sions in pediatrics.
2. The standard of the patient’s best interests
The patient’s best interest standard is to identify the
greatest net benefit among the different options avai-
lable, assigning different weight to the interests that
the patient has in each option and subtracting the risks
or costs inherent in each of the options. Already in the
first definition of the standard of the best interests ap-
Macmillan, 19953, 387-399, 389-390; Beauchamp, T.L., Childress, J.F.,
Principles of biomedical ethics…, op. cit.135-140; Buchanan, A.E.,
Brock, D.W., Deciding for others…, op. cit., 87-151.
10 Cfr. Davies, J.K., “The concept of precedent autonomy”,
Bioethics, 16 (2002)114-133.
11 Cfr. Kopelman, L.M., “Children: health care and research…”,
op. cit., 390. Usually adults may have enumerated how they want
decisions made by completing

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