Self-Determination vs. Family-Determination: Two Incommensurable Principles of Autonomy

Bioethics 11 (3-4):309-322 (1997)
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Most contemporary bioethicists believe that Western bioethical principles, such as the principle of autonomy, are universally binding wherever bioethics is found. According to these bioethicists, these principles may be subject to culturally‐conditioned further interpretations for their application in different nations or regions, but an ‘abstract content’ of each principle remains unchanged, which provides ‘an objective basis for moral judgment and international law’. This essay intends to demonstrate that this is not the case. Taking the principle of autonomy as an example, this essay argues that there is no such shared ‘abstract content’ between the Western bioethical principle of autonomy and the East Asian bioethical principle of autonomy. Other things being equal, the Western principle of autonomy demands self‐determination, assumes a subjective conception of the good and promotes the value of individual independence, whilst the East Asian principle of autonomy requires family‐determination, presupposes an objective conception of the good and upholds the value of harmonious dependence. They differ from each other in the most general sense and basic moral requirement.



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