Counterfactual reasoning in surrogate decision making -- another look

Bioethics. 2011 Jun;25(5):244-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2009.01768.x. Epub 2009 Oct 28.


Incompetent patients need to have someone else make decisions on their behalf. According to the Substituted Judgment Standard the surrogate decision maker ought to make the decision that the patient would have made, had he or she been competent. Objections have been raised against this traditional construal of the standard on the grounds that it involves flawed counterfactual reasoning, and amendments have been suggested within the framework of possible worlds semantics. The paper shows that while this approach may circumvent the alleged problem, the way it has so far been elaborated reflects insufficient understanding of the moral underpinnings of the idea of substituted judgment. Proper recognition of these moral underpinnings has potentially far-reaching implications for our normative assumptions about accuracy and objectivity in surrogate decision making.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Mental Competency*
  • Moral Obligations
  • Proxy*
  • Semantics
  • Third-Party Consent / ethics*