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Choosing the least-restrictive alternative in guardianship

When a person is appointed as a guardian over another person, making medical decisions on behalf of that individual can be difficult. After all, while guardianship in New Jersey is seen as a last resort, guardians still have the duty to make decisions the incapacitated individual would have wanted for themselves. Therefore, there are principles New Jersey guardians should abide by. One of these principles is choosing the least restrictive alternative when it comes to medical care.

When a guardian makes medical decisions on behalf of the protected individual, among several considerations they must choose the least restrictive alternative. This is because, while they must protect that individual, they also want that to ensure that individual has the opportunity to be as independent as much as is safely possible. Of course, the degree of independence a protected individual can have will vary greatly depending on that individual's specific situation.

For example, if the protected individual is in pain, a guardian may decide that the least restrictive alternative is to provide the protected individual with an over-the-counter pain medication rather than a prescription pain medication. Ultimately, though, the least restrictive alternative should be taken only if it is sufficient to keep the protected person safe. If it is ineffective, then it may be time to consider a more restrictive alternative.

These are sometimes tough decisions to make. Ultimately, if the protected individual has a stated or demonstrated preference, the guardian should honor that if it is safe to do so. Guardianship is a last-resort option, but it is sometimes necessary if a person is incapacitated.

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