Tuesday 8th Nov. 2022 12:15 - 1:15 pm Unpacking Bedside Bioethics

“Who Ya Gonna Call?” When Your Patients Can’t Decide by Themselves

Headshot of Joan Henriksen
Joan Henriksen, PhD, RN, HEC-C


In daily clinical practice, care decisions must be made even when patients lack capacity to independently provide informed consent and shared decision-making. If the patient has not named someone to speak for them, it can become a challenge to know how best to proceed.  This presentation explores various complexities of surrogate decision making and proposes strategies for honoring patient values and goals when alternate decision makers are needed.


Objectives:  At the conclusion of this presentation, learners should be able to:

  1. Describe three ways to determine the most appropriate surrogate decision maker for a patient lacking capacity.
  2. Identify challenges a surrogate may face in making decisions on behalf of a patient.
  3. Name one ethical standard guiding surrogate decision making.
  4. Discuss two approaches to help surrogate decision makers perform their role well. 


Joan Henriksen, PhD, RN, HEC-C, serves as the Clinical Ethicist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.  She started her career as a registered nurse in pediatric cardiology then earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies (Ethics) from the University of Iowa.  She has worked in clinical ethics since 2007 and currently spends most of her time responding to bedside ethics consultation requests and providing ethics education to clinicians and medical learners. Her scholarship focuses on ethics consultation practice, preventing ethical crises with proactive approaches, and clinician moral distress.  Outside of work, you can find Joan following the many activities of her two teenage sons and enjoying the outdoors, hiking, and house projects.