Prescriptions: Autonomy, humanism and the purpose of health technology

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 19 (6):525-545 (1998)
Abstract
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.
Keywords medical ethics  autonomy  humanism  health technology  philosophy  Kant  Heidegger  Derrida
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