Desperately Seeking a Surrogate—For a Patient Lacking Decision–Making Capacity
Abstract

Our hospital’s policy and procedures for “Patients Without Surrogates” provides for gradated safeguards for managing patients’ treatment and care when they lack decision–making capacity, have no advance directives, and no surrogate decision makers are available. The safeguards increase as clinical decisions become more significant and have greater consequences for the patient. The policy also directs social workers to engage in “rigorous efforts” to search for surrogates who can potentially provide substituted judgments for such patients. We describe and illustrate the policy, procedures, and kinds of expected rigorous efforts through our narration of an actual but disguised case for which we provided clinical ethics guidance and social work expertise. Our experience with and reflection on this case resulted in four recommendations we make for health care facilities and organizations that aim to provide quality care for their own patients without surrogates.


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