When terminally ill patients become mentally incapacitated, their surrogates often make treatment decisions in collaboration with health care providers. The authors examined how surrogates' errors in reporting their spouses' preferences are affected by their gender, status as durable power of attorney for health care (DPAHC), whether they and their spouses discussed end-of-life preferences, and their spouses' health status. Structural equation models were applied to data from married couples in their mid-60s from the 2004 wave of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Surrogates reported their spouses' preferences incorrectly 13% and 26% of the time in end-of-life scenarios involving cognitive impairment and physical pain, respectively. Surrogates projected their own preferences onto their spouses'. Similar patterns emerged regardless of surrogate gender and status as DPAHC, marital discussions about end-of-life preferences, or spousal health status. Implications for the process of surrogate decision making and for future research are discussed.

Source:  Research on Aging (July 2009)

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