If it is accepted that family members and spouses have a right to substitute
their decisions for a patient, then physicians will find themselves talking to
relatives in other situations, such as abortion counseling. Protecting patient
autonomy has a great benefit to physicians: the physician always knows who
has the right to consent to medical care. Although physicians dislike being
involved in guardianship proceedings, the alternative is uncertainty in
obtaining consent. Relatives frequently disagree over the care a patient should
receive. The physician must choose the relatives with whom to consult. This
raises questions such as whether two children trump one spouse. Does any
relative with an attorney trump the rest of the family?
If the physician chooses whom to consult for consent, he or she will also be
legally liable if the choice is incorrect. If no family member has a right to
consent, then no family member has the right to sue for failing to be consulted
about the patient’s care. Conversely, if family members may be consulted, then
they have a right to sue if they are unhappy with the physician’s decisions.