The Best Interest Standard Is the Best We Have: Why the Harm Principle and Constrained Parental Autonomy Cannot Replace the Best Interest Standard in Pediatric Ethics

J Clin Ethics. 2019 Fall;30(3):223-231.


While the best interest standard (BIS) enjoys wide endorsement as ethical and decision-making standard in pediatrics, it has been criticized as vague and indeterminate. Alternate decision-making standards have been proposed to replace or augment the BIS, notably the harm principle (HP) and constrained parental autonomy (CPA) model. In this edition of The Journal of Clinical Ethics, Lainie Friedman Ross argues that CPA is a better standard than the BIS or the HP as both guide and limiter in pediatrics. In response, I review the important work done by the BIS in pediatrics, and argue that neither the HP nor the CPA can take over these functions or replace the BIS. Among other things I argue: (1) The BIS provides more robust protections for the moral claims of children. (2) The CPA model and the HP do not resolve the indeterminacy and vagueness present in complex medical situations, and the BIS is better suited to deal with this vagueness and indeterminacy. (3) The BIS is a general principle of medical ethics with special application in pediatrics; it fits seamlessly into the system of medical ethics and fulfills many functions within pediatrics. The HP and the CPA model do not fit in so readily within medical ethics, and are not equipped to take over the functions of the BIS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Decision Making*
  • Ethics, Clinical
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Harm Reduction*
  • Humans
  • Parents*
  • Pediatrics*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Standard of Care