Should age be a deciding factor in ethical decision-making?

Robert K. Pretzlaff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The question of age as a factor in ethical decision-making takes two forms. The first form considers age as a factor at the societal, or policy, level, and the second as a factor in determining the capacity of the individual patient to make decisions regarding their own care. This article satisfies itself with a consideration of only the latter question. The issue of whether age is contributing factor in medical decision-making is frequently posited when one considers ethically charged instances of medical decision making at the end of life. Few would argue that the person who has the capacity for decision-making should be denied the ability to exercise that facility and so, it is when a person has lost their ability for making those choices that the question of age as a contributing factor in ethical decision making is raised. The question therefore becomes one of capacity more then age, with age as a useful, but inexact, gauge of that capacity. The inexactitude of age as a surrogate of capacity is a contributing factor to the problem posed in this series of articles. Therefore, to define the relative contribution of age to the capacity for ethical decision-making this article will focus not on the loss of that ability, but rather on the factors that define the realization of that faculty. To do this it will be necessary to define how that faculty is to be to be measured and what are the characteristics of an ethical decision that define it apart from other decisions. Since at the beginning of life, if age is the only variable (adjusting for other co-morbid states) then the issue of surrogacy is a temporary one and is unlike the adult where the presumption is that the person is unlikely to regain decision-making capacity as they slip further into their morbid state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-128
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Care Analysis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2005


  • Child
  • Medical decision-making
  • Moral development
  • Surrogate decision-making

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Professions(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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