An ethical façade? Medical students' miscomprehensions of substituted judgment.
BACKGROUND: We studied how well first-year medical students understand and apply the concept of substituted judgment, following a course on clinical ethics. METHOD: Students submitted essays on one of three ethically controversial scenarios presented in class. One scenario involved a patient who had lost decisional capacity. Through an iterative process of textual analysis, the essays were studied and coded for patterns in the ways students misunderstood or misapplied the principle of substituted judgment. RESULTS: Students correctly articulated course principles regarding patient autonomy, substituted judgment, and non-imposition of physician values. However, students showed misunderstanding by giving doctors the responsibility of balancing the interests of the patient against the interests of the family, by stating doctors and surrogates should be guided primarily by a best-interest standard, and by suggesting that patient autonomy becomes the guiding principle only when patients can no longer express their wishes. CONCLUSION: Students did not appear to internalize or correctly apply the substituted judgment standard, even though they could describe it accurately. This suggests the substituted judgment standard may run counter to students' moral intuitions, making it harder to apply in clinical practice.
Curlin, FA; Lawrence, RE; Fredrickson, J
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