The 'obligation' to screen and its effect on autonomy

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 6 (4):495-505 (2009)
In the United States, disease screening is offered to the public as a consumer service. It has been proposed that the act of “consumption” is a manifestation of agency and that the decision to consume is an exercise of autonomy. The enthusiasm of the American public for disease screening and the expansion in the demand for all sorts of disease screening in recent years can be viewed as an expression of such autonomy. Here, we argue that the enthusiasm for disease screening witnessed in the American public today may be more a reflection of the constraint on autonomy than its facilitation. It is our opinion that the articulation of socio-historical processes has contributed to a moral imperative which is reflected in the decision making of individuals around disease screening. We suggest medical and health professionals have a responsibility to facilitate the exercise of individual autonomy in health care decision making as an integral component of professional obligation. These professionals need to problematise healthcare activities that constrain individual autonomy.
Keywords Bioethics  Risk and health  Autonomy  Disease screening  Professional obligations
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