The best-interests standard as threshold, ideal, and standard of reasonableness

J Med Philos. 1997 Jun;22(3):271-89. doi: 10.1093/jmp/22.3.271.


The best-interests standard is a widely used ethical, legal, and social basis for policy and decision-making involving children and other incompetent persons. It is under attack, however, as self-defeating, individualistic, unknowable, vague, dangerous, and open to abuse. The author defends this standard by identifying its employment, first, as a threshold for intervention and judgment (as in child abuse and neglect rulings), second, as an ideal to establish policies or prima facie duties, and, third, as a standard of reasonableness. Criticisms of the best-interests standard are reconsidered after clarifying these different meanings.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse / history
  • Child Abuse / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Welfare / history*
  • Child Welfare / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Decision Making
  • Ethics
  • Europe
  • Female
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Judicial Role*
  • Legal Guardians / history
  • Legal Guardians / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Male
  • Minors
  • Moral Obligations
  • Parental Consent
  • Resource Allocation
  • Risk Assessment
  • Social Change
  • Social Values
  • United States
  • Withholding Treatment