The Many Faces of Autonomy

Health Care Analysis 9 (3):283-297 (2001)
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The challenge in maintaining patient autonomy regarding medical decision-making and confidentiality lies not only in control over information transferred to and regarding patients, but in the ambiguity of autonomy itself. post-modernity is characterized by the recognition of not just numerous accounts of autonomy, but by the inability in a principled fashion to select one as canonical. Autonomy is understood as a good, a right-making condition, and an element of human flourishing. In each case, it can have a different content, depending in part on whether it is given a nomological or a volitional construal. Different accounts of autonomy can lead to strikingly different understandings of appropriate behavior, including the argument that one ought on behalf of autonomy to liberate individuals from the sense of autonomy they themselves affirm. In the face of competing accounts of moral probity, autonomy in a secular morality and bioethics must by default be understood in terms of the permission of patients, which makes space for numerous moral accounts and different communal construals of free choice, which in turn will legitimate different practices of informing patients and maintaining confidentiality



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