A Care Perspective on Coercion and Autonomy
Bioethics. 1999 Jul; 13(3-4): 358-368.
In the Netherlands there is a growing debate over the possibility of introducing 'compassionate interference' as a form of good psychiatric care. Instead of respecting the autonomy of the patient by adopting an attitude of non-interference, professional carers should take a more active and committed role. There was a great deal of hostile reaction to this suggestion, the most commonly voiced criticism being that it smacked of 'modern paternalism.' Still, the current conception of care leaves us with a paradox. On the one hand patients are regarded as individuals who have a strong interest in (and a right to) freedom and non-interference; on the other hand many of them have a desperate need for flourishing, viable relationships. In fact, part of their problem is that they cannot relate very well with other people. This creates a dichotomy, because respecting patients' autonomy often means that they cannot be given the help they so desperately need. In this respect current care practices do not answer the caring needs of these patients. The criticism on care practices is to be considered as important. It invites us to reexamine and reevaluate the current conception of caring relationships and its main values. In line with this reexamination an alternative perspective on care is introduced in this paper, a perspective in which 'compassionate interference' is not so much a threat to autonomy, but a means of attaining autonomy. For this we need a different definition of autonomy than that commonly used in current care practice.
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