What does respect for the patient's autonomy require?

Bioethics 27 (9):493-499 (2013)
Abstract
Personal autonomy presupposes the notion of rationality. What is not so clear is whether, and how, a compromise of rationality to various degrees will diminish a person's autonomy. In bioethical literature, three major types of threat to the rationality of a patient's medical decision are identified: insufficient information, irrational beliefs/desires, and influence of different framing effects. To overcome the first problem, it is suggested that patients be provided with information about their diseases and treatment choices according to the objective standard. I shall explain how this should be finessed. Regarding the negative impact of irrational beliefs/desires, some philosophers have argued that holding irrational beliefs can still be an expression of autonomy. I reject this argument because the degree of autonomy of a decision depends on the degree of rationality of the beliefs or desires on which the decision is based. Hence, to promote patient autonomy, we need to eliminate irrational beliefs by the provision of evidence and good arguments. Finally, I argue that the way to smooth out the framing effects is to present the same information in different perspectives: it is too often assumed that medical information can always be given in a complete and unadorned manner. This article concludes with a cautionary note that the protection of patient autonomy requires much more time and effort than the current practice usually allows
Keywords framing effect  informed consent  autonomy  rationality
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