The range of autonomy: Informed consent in medicine

Glenn Graber
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
On the basis of the characterization of autonomy set out by Beauchamp and Childress in Principles of Biomedical Ethics, we first explore some of the parameters along which autonomy may vary in degree through a series of hypothetical examples drawn from various settings; and, second and in more detail, we examine how the range of autonomy is affected through informed consent to various medical diagnostic tests. Our conclusions are (1) that there are significant implications for patient autonomy inherent in new and forthcoming diagnostic modalities, and (2) that attention should be paid to these implications in formulating policies for both clinical practice and research. We close with (a) some specific policy recommendations for clinical practice and research, and (b) some metaphysical speculations raised by our explorations.
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