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Bioethicists describe how medical decisions are made when a patient lacks decision-making capacity

Bioethicists Thomas Curran, MD (at right), and lawyer Robert Olick, JD, PhD When patients lack decision-making capacity, physicians turn to surrogates or proxies. What happens if patients have not designated someone to make decisions on their behalf? Typically, the patient's family is enlisted -- but disagreements are not uncommon. That's when a bioethicist may be asked to help mediate. Upstate University Hospital has a bioethicist available every day, and he or she is summoned for help when differences arise among family members, patients or medical caregivers. Bioethicists Thomas Curran, MD (at right in photo), and lawyer Robert Olick, JD, PhD (at left), explain that the obligation is to make a decision that the patient would want. They tell about a situation in which two adult sons suddenly had to decide what their mother would want after she suffered a heart attack and multiple organ failure. A friend produced a living will that the mother had made, which helped the sons find peace with what was a difficult decision.