Guardianship and Ethics


Few professions raise issues as interesting, complex and ethically challenging as guardianship. The task of making major decisions for others – often with no or only the slenderest threads of information – can be daunting. Yet in an aging and increasingly disconnected society, the number of people requiring the services of guardians is increasing. It should be uncontroversial to regard people who have been determined to be incompetent as vulnerable. Indeed, wards are arguably as vulnerable as individuals in any group.

Moreover, given the high stakes of many guardianship decisions, and in light of the challenging ethical questions they pose, it is not a little surprising there are so few resources to guide guardians when they must address these questions. This is unfortunate in light of the increasing number of guardianship cases that make their way to institutional ethics committees … and because there are vastly many more cases for which there is no ethics committee to turn to.

For these reasons, the Florida Guardianship Ethics Project has been created as a collaboration among the Florida Bioethics Network, the Florida State Guardianship Association and the University of Miami Ethics Programs. The project has three overarching goals:

  • Design of an ethics curriculum for guardians, lawyers, family members, judges and others.
  • Establishment of a statewide guardianship ethics consultation service.
  • Fostering a mechanism to review and create institutional and other policies related to guardianship and surrogate decision making.

This document represents a first approximation of one component of the first goal. Ethics curricula in the health and other professions have for decades thrived and relied on case studies to illustrate issues, identify best practices and suggest ethically optimized solutions in challenging cases.

Hence, Case Studies in Ethics and Guardianship constitutes an initial effort to provide preliminary curricular tools. The document should be regarded as a work in progress.Curriculum components are available on the menu bar at left.

This effort is supported by a grant to the Florida State Guardianship Association from the Statewide Public Guardianship Office in Florida's Department of Elder Affairs, under the good offices of Michelle R. Hollister, Esq., Executive Director.

Comments, questions and suggestions, including suggestions for additional cases, may be sent to the University of Miami Ethics Programs at