Ignorance, information and autonomy

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 22 (5):415-436 (2001)
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People have a powerful interest in geneticprivacy and its associated claim to ignorance,and some equally powerful desires to beshielded from disturbing information are oftenvoiced. We argue, however, that there is nosuch thing as a right to remain in ignorance,where a right is understood as an entitlementthat trumps competing claims. This doesnot of course mean that information must alwaysbe forced upon unwilling recipients, only thatthere is no prima facie entitlement to beprotected from true or honest information aboutoneself. Any claims to be shielded frominformation about the self must compete onequal terms with claims based in the rights andinterests of others. In balancing the weightand importance of rival considerations aboutgiving or withholding information, if rightsclaims have any place, rights are more likelyto be defensible on the side of honestcommunication of information rather than indefence of ignorance. The right to free speechand the right to decline to acceptresponsibility to take decisions for othersimposed by those others seem to us moreplausible candidates for fully fledged rightsin this field than any purported right toignorance. Finally, and most importantly, ifthe right to autonomy is invoked, a properunderstanding of the distinction between claimsto liberty and claims to autonomy show that theprinciple of autonomy, as it is understood incontemporary social ethics and English law,supports the giving rather than the withholdingof information in most circumstances



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John Terence Harris
Birkbeck College

Citations of this work

Autonomy, Rationality, and Contemporary Bioethics.Jonathan Pugh - 2020 - Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Can Broad Consent be Informed Consent?M. Sheehan - 2011 - Public Health Ethics 4 (3):226-235.
The right not to know and the obligation to know.Ben Davies - 2020 - Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (5):300-303.

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References found in this work

The value of life.John Harris - 1985 - Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
The Value of Life.John Harris - 1985 - Mind 95 (380):533-535.
Who should know about our genetic makeup and why?T. Takala - 2000 - Journal of Medical Ethics 26 (3):171-174.

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