Two core questions in pediatric ethics concern when and how physicians are ethically permitted to intervene in parental treatment decisions (intervention principles), and the goals or values that should direct physicians' and parents' decisions about the care of children (guidance principles). Lainie Friedman Ross argues in this issue of The Journal of Clinical Ethics that constrained parental autonomy (CPA) simultaneously answers both questions: physicians should intervene when parental treatment preferences fail to protect a child's basic needs or primary goods, and both physicians and parents should be guided by a commitment to protect a child's basic needs and primary goods. In contrast, we argue that no principle-neither Ross's CPA, nor the best interest standard or the harm threshold-can serve as both an intervention principle and a guidance principle. First, there are as many correct intervention principles as there are different kinds of interventions, since different kinds of interventions can be justified under different conditions. Second, physicians and parents have different guidance principles, because the decisions physicians and parents make for a child should be informed by different values and balanced by different (potentially) conflicting commitments.
Copyright 2019 The Journal of Clinical Ethics. All rights reserved.