Autonomy and dependence: Chronic physical illness and decision-making capacity

Abstract
In this article some of the presuppositions that underly the current ideas about decision making capacity, autonomy and independence are critically examined. The focus is on chronic disorders, especially on chronic physical disorders. First, it is argued that the concepts of decision making competence and autonomy, as they are usually applied to the problem of legal (in)competence in the mentally ill, need to be modified and adapted to the situation of the chronically (physically) ill. Second, it is argued that autonomy and dependence must not be considered as two mutually exclusive categories. It is suggested that decision making may take on the form of a more or less conscious decision not to be involved in making all kinds of explicit and deliberate decisions. Elaborating on Agich's distinction between ideal and actual autonomy, the concept of Socratic autonomy is introduced
Keywords autonomy  chronic illness  decision making capacity  dependence  multiple sclerosis
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