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Respect for the autonomy of patients is essential in life-threatening medical decisions such as surgery. Even if a patient has the competency to make decisions, many obstacles exist that may influence his or her willingness to participate in the surgical decision-making process.The aim of this study was to explore the perceived difficulties in surgical decision making and related factors among elective surgical patients.This was a cross-sectional correlational study. A convenience sampling method was used to recruit patients from a medical center in southern Taiwan. Patients who had received elective surgery, were older than 20 years old, and were competent to make medical decisions were invited to participate. A structured questionnaire was developed by the researchers to collect demographic data, decision patterns, and perceived difficulties in surgical decision making. Acceptable validity and reliability of the questionnaire were confirmed before data collection.Over 80% of the participants made the surgical decision by themselves or in collaboration with their family or physician. Less than 15% expected to make the surgical decision by themselves. Illness-related suffering was the greatest difficulty that participants faced. The patients who tended toward passive decision making faced greater difficulties in the dimensions of “do not understand information,” “physician’s lack of concern,” and “difficulty in freely communicating with the physician” than their active decision-making peers. Male participants reported having more difficulty in communicating with their physician than their female peers. Age, education, and marital status were not significantly associated with perceived difficulties in surgical decision making.Family participation in the medical decision-making process is expected by most patients. Although less than 20% of the participants in this study were categorized as passive decision makers, this group reported more difficulties than the active decision-making group. Healthcare professionals should be more active in communicating with patients who are largely silent during the decision-making process to elicit their preferences and needs with regard to surgical decisions.