Respect for Rational Autonomy
Walker, Rebecca L.
Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 2009 December; 19(4): 339-366
The standard notion of autonomy in medical ethics does not require that autonomous choices not be irrational. The paper gives three examples of seemingly irrational patient choices and discusses how a rational autonomy analysis differs from the standard view. It then considers whether a switch to the rational autonomy view would lead to overriding more patient decisions but concludes that this should not be the case. Rather, a determination of whether individual patient decisions are autonomous is much less relevant than usually considered in determining whether health care providers must abide by these decisions. Furthermore, respect for rational autonomy entails strong positive requirements of respect for the autonomy of the person as a rational decision maker. The rationality view of autonomy is conceptually stronger than the standard view, allows for a more nuanced understanding of the practical moral calculus involved in respecting patient autonomy, and promotes positive respect for patient autonomy.
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