Hastings Center Report
In This Together: Navigating Ethical Challenges Posed by Family Clustering during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Abstract: Harrowing stories reported in the media describe Covid-19 ravaging through families. This essay reports professional experiences of this phenomenon, family clustering, as encountered during the pandemic’s spread across Southern California. We identify three ethical challenges following from it: Family clustering impedes shared decision-making by reducing available surrogate decision-makers for incapacitated patients, increases the emotional burdens of surrogate decision-makers, and exacerbates health disparities for and the suffering of people of color at increased likelihood of experiencing family clustering. We propose that, in response to these challenges, efforts in advance care planning be expanded, emotional support offered to surrogates and family members be increased, more robust state guidance be issued on ethical decision-making for unrepresented patients, ethics consultation be increased in the setting of conflict following from family clustering dynamics, and health care professionals pay more attention to systemic and personal racial biases and inequities that affect patient care and the surrogate experience.