Informed Consent: Is Autonomy still Central to Medical Ethics?

Informed Consent: Is Autonomy still Central to Medical Ethics?

The concept of autonomy in medical ethics is often associated with enabling or allowing the patients to make their decisions on what health interventions they will not or will receive. One of the pros with this principle is that allows patients to make voluntary choices on the life-changing interventions of their health care (Devisch, 2011). More so, it discourages some paternalism and protects patients from unfavorable interventions for instance by declining a surgery they may be disadvantageous than beneficial. The principle of autonomy also encourages attention to the understanding of the health care interventions in a person.

Despite these advantages of autonomy, there has been criticism on this principle with many arguing that the principle has failed to instill ethics in medicine. One con of this principle is that autonomy of the patient ignores the importance of family. In the recent decades the role of family is receiving more attention, and as such since autonomy mainly focus is on an individual patient, the role of a family is ignored (Whitney, Rovner, Brody, H., Schneider, C., McCullough, Volk & McGuire, 2008). Furthermore, autonomy fails to recognize that the current choice of a patient may not represent what that individual patient truly wants. Sometimes the effect of illness in a patient may distort the perceptions of the patient. Additionally, doctors have a moral obligation to their profession which may outweigh the wishes of patients. Therefore, autonomy would be violating this moral obligation of physicians.

From the pros and cons of autonomy, patient’s autonomy should not be ignored as it is an important principle of ethics in medicine. Its pros outweigh the cons. However, it should not be conceived as a simple directive or a value that overrides all other values. Therefore, the position that autonomy is still ethical to medicine does not change. ”Most people hold that it is preferable to be their own person or to shape their lives rather than being under control of other people” (Jonsen, Siegler & Winslade, 2015). In the same reference, patients should be given autonomy in making their decisions putting in mind the need to balance the competing interests. “Autonomy would protect patients from receiving some interventions they perceive to be dangerous than helpful” (Devisch, 2011). Therefore, autonomy is central to medical ethics and should be upheld for the safety of patients.



Devisch, I. (2011). Progress in medicine: autonomy, oughtonomy and nudging. Journal of evaluation in clinical practice, 17(5), 857-861.

Jonsen, A. R., Siegler, M., & Winslade, W. J. (2015). Clinical Ethics: A Practical Approach to Ethical Decisions in Clinical Medicine, 8E. McGraw Hill Professional.

Whitney, S. N., Holmes-Rovner, M., Brody, H., Schneider, C., McCullough, L. B., Volk, R. J., & McGuire, A. L. (2008). Beyond shared decision making: an expanded typology of medical decisions. Medical Decision Making, 28(5), 699-705.



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