Practising what we preach: clinical ethicists' professional perspectives and personal use of advance directives

J Med Ethics. 2022 Feb;48(2):144-149. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2020-106760. Epub 2020 Oct 26.


The field of clinical bioethics strongly advocates for the use of advance directives to promote patient autonomy, particularly at the end of life. This paper reports a study of clinical bioethicists' perceptions of the professional consensus about advance directives, as well as their personal advance care planning practices. We find that clinical bioethicists are often sceptical about the value of advance directives, and their personal choices about advance directives often deviate from what clinical ethicists acknowledge to be their profession's recommendations. Moreover, our respondents identified a pluralistic set of justifications for completing treatment directives and designating surrogates, even while the consensus view focuses on patient autonomy. Our results suggest important revisions to academic discussion and public-facing advocacy about advance care planning.

Keywords: clinical ethics; end-of-life; living wills/advance directives.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Advance Directives
  • Bioethics*
  • Ethicists
  • Humans
  • Personal Autonomy