Prescriptions: Autonomy, Humanism and the Purpose of Health Technology
Krakauer, Eric L.
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. 1998 Dec; 19(6): 525-545.
My purpose is to examine two of the foundations of medical ethics: the principle of autonomy and the concept of the human. I also investigate the extent to which health technology makes autonomy and humanness possible. I begin by underlining Illich's point that the same health technology designed to promote health and autonomy also is pathogenic. I proceed to analyse the Kantian concept of autonomy, a concept which is closely associated with health and which continues to determine current ethical thinking. In so doing, I uncover an unexpected ontological function of health technology, a function described in Heidegger's work on technology. Based on this discovery, I suggest that calls for Kantian autonomy may often be self-defeating or even sometimes harmful. I conclude by calling for continued ethical vigilance, but also for a questioning of the hitherto virtually unquestionable concepts of ethics and humanness which may themselves play a role in our era's greatest problems.
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