When ethical reform became law: the constitutional concerns raised by recent legislation in Taiwan

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In an effort at ethical reform, Taiwan recently revised the Hospice Palliative Care Law authorising family members or physicians to make surrogate decisions to discontinue life-sustaining treatment if an incompetent terminally ill patient did not express their wishes while still competent. In particular, Article 7 of the new law authorises the palliative care team, namely the physicians, to act as sole decision-makers on behalf of the incompetent terminally ill patient's best interests if no family member is available. However, the law fails to provide guidance as to what constitutes the patient's best interests or what specific procedures the treating physicians should follow, and so has raised constitutional concerns. It may be difficult to translate ethical reform into law but it is not impossible if essential requirements are carefully followed. First, there must be substantial nexus between the purpose of the statute and the measures provided under the statute. Second, advocates need to convince the public that futility or waste has amounted to a public health emergency so as to justify lower procedural requirements. Third, a remedy or compensation should be available if the surrogate decisions have not been appropriately made. Fourth, minimum procedural safeguards are necessary even though the statute is intended to reduce the procedural burdens of making surrogate decisions on behalf of incompetent patients who lack family members and did not express their wishes while still competent.

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