Responding to Those Who Hope for a Miracle: Practices for Clinical Bioethicists

Am J Bioeth. 2018 May;18(5):40-51. doi: 10.1080/15265161.2018.1431702.


Significant challenges arise for clinical care teams when a patient or surrogate decision-maker hopes a miracle will occur. This article answers the question, "How should clinical bioethicists respond when a medical decision-maker uses the hope for a miracle to orient her medical decisions?" We argue the ethicist must first understand the complexity of the miracle-invocation. To this end, we provide a taxonomy of miracle-invocations that assist the ethicist in analyzing the invocator's conceptions of God, community, and self. After the ethicist appreciates how these concepts influence the invocator's worldview, she can begin responding to this hope with specific practices. We discuss these practices in detail and offer concrete recommendations for a justified response to the hope for a miracle.

Keywords: decision making; end-of-life issues; futility; philosophy; professional ethics; religion.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics
  • Humans
  • Terminally Ill*
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics*