Revisiting respect for persons: conceptual analysis and implications for clinical practice

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 25 (3):351-360 (2022)
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In everyday conversations, professional codes, policy debates, and academic literature, the concept of respect is referred to frequently. Bioethical arguments in recent decades equate the idea of respect for persons with individuals who are capable of autonomous decision-making, with the focus being explicitly on ‘autonomy,’ ‘capacity,’ or ‘capability.’ In much of bioethics literature, respect for persons is replaced by respect for autonomy. Though the unconditional respect for persons and their autonomy (irrespective of actual decision-making capacity) is established in Kantian bioethics, current argument and debates often revolve around a thin concept of autonomy, focusing on capacity and capability: persons are owed respect because they are ‘rational beings’ or with a focus on ‘agency’ and ‘decision-making abilities.’ However, these aspects alone are insufficient while engaging the concept of respect for persons, particularly in healthcare settings. This paper sets out to explore if the concept of respect for persons—as opposed to a thin concept of autonomy—could help us engage better in healthcare practices. We shall probe the practical value of the experiential aspect of respect—understood as the recognition of persons as respect-worthy through certain dispositions and deliberative acts—by reflecting on instances in clinical practice that tend to be dismissed as negligible or even unavoidable in a stressful environment such as a busy hospital. We shall argue that these instances are far from trivial but carry moral significance and express an unacceptable—disrespectful—attitude that can compromise the moral habitus in hospital settings. In our conclusion, we call for practicing recognition respect in the health professional–patient encounter by focussing on manners, attitudes, and behaviors. Furthermore, we call for continuous medical ethics education programs to address the moral significance of disrespectful behaviors and their manifestations in particular socio-cultural contexts.



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References found in this work

Practical philosophy.Immanuel Kant - 1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Mary J. Gregor.
Two kinds of respect.Stephen Darwall - 1977 - Ethics 88 (1):36-49.
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 1996 - In Mary J. Gregor (ed.), Practical Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 37-108.

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