The Principle Of Autonomy In Health Care Essay.

The Principle Of Autonomy In Health Care Essay


The principle of autonomy has been and remains to be one of the most frequently used principles when doing a biomedical ethical decision. It is true that Beauchamp and Childress cited four principles namely, autonomy, beneficence, justice, and non-malenficence, and stated that these four principles are on equal footing in process of ethical justification. Nevertheless, the principle of autonomy seems to have a special place in ethical discussions because of its operative definition, that is, informed consent (p. 77).The Principle Of Autonomy In Health Care Essay.


Informed consent has gained ground in important documents such as the Nuremberg Code and the Helsinki Declaration and for very understandable reasons: most if not all of the inhumane medical procedures happened due to lack of informed consent. From the abuses of the Nazi doctors to the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment, gross human violations happened since medical practitioners did not think it was necessary to involve the patients in deciding about their situation. So what exactly is the principle of autonomy and how is it expressed through informed consent?The Principle Of Autonomy In Health Care Essay.

Autonomy is defined as “self-rule that is free from both controlling interference by others and from limitations, such as inadequate understanding, that prevent meaningful choice” (p. 58). As such, two conditions ought to be present for autonomy to be present: “liberty (independence from controlling influences) and agency (capacity for intentional action)” (p. 58). Translated in medical practice, this refers to the patient’s or research subject’s right to decide for himself/herself and not being hampered by ignorance or coercion in this decision-making process.The Principle Of Autonomy In Health Care Essay.

From the perspective of the medical practitioner’s responsibility, this could then mean telling the truth to the patient, making sure that consent is obtained before any medical procedure or intervention, safeguarding confidential information, presenting all the available medical options, respecting patient’s privacy, and many others (p. 65). All these point to one thing: the acknowledgement that the competent patient remains to be the best person to decide for himself/herself, and such a capacity for decision-making could never and should never be taken away from him/her by anyone.

Autonomy has best been operationalized by informed consent. Informed consent refers to “an individual’s autonomous authorization of a medical intervention or of participation in research” (p. 78). It also means complying with “the social rules of consent in institutions” (p. 78) before proceeding with a medical procedure/intervention. Specifically, informed consent is present if all these following elements are present: the patient “is competent to act, receives a thorough disclosure, comprehends the disclosure, acts voluntarily, and consents to the intervention” (p. 79). Indeed, gaining the patient’s informed consent has been an important step in any clinical trial.The Principle Of Autonomy In Health Care Essay.

This means that anyone who is involved in a clinical trial knew exactly what the trial is about, what the implications of the trial are on his/her own well-being, what the procedures are, and what his/her involvements means for the trial. On the event that the patient wishes to back out from a trial, then the doctor-patient relationship should not be constrained by such a decision and the medication of the patient should continue. This is equally true in medical interventions. A doctor could never impose a procedure on a competent patient, no matter how good the intervention may be.

The principle of autonomy is an important principle in the field of medical ethics because of it’s safeguarding function, i.e., it ensures that patients are the ones who decide for themselves.The Principle Of Autonomy In Health Care Essay.