Reviewing Autonomy: Implications of the Neurosciences and the Free Will Debate for the Principle of Respect for the Patient's Autonomy

Beauchamp and Childress have performed a great service by strengthening the principle of respect for the patient's autonomy against the paternalism that dominated medicine until at least the 1970s. Nevertheless, we think that the concept of autonomy should be elaborated further. We suggest such an elaboration built on recent developments within the neurosciences and the free will debate. The reason for this suggestion is at least twofold: First, Beauchamp and Childress neglect some important elements of autonomy. Second, neuroscience itself needs a conceptual apparatus to deal with the neural basis of autonomy for diagnostic purposes. This desideratum is actually increasing because modern therapy options can considerably influence the neural basis of autonomy itself.Sabine MNeuroScienceAndNorms: Ethical and Legal Aspects of Norms in Neuroimaging at Bonn University Hospital, Germany. Her main research interests are in neuroethics. She is coauthor of three German books about neuroethics and bioethics.Henrik Walter, M.D., Ph.D., is Full Professor of Medical Psychology at the University of Bonn, Germany, and vice-director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Clinic of Bonn. He is author of Neurophilosophy of Free Will and editor of the book From Neuroethics to Neurolaw?. His research fields are biological psychiatry, cognitive neuroscience, neuroimaging, neurophilosophy, and neuroethics
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DOI 10.1017/S0963180109990478
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