Autonomy, interdependence, and assisted suicide: Respecting boundaries/crossing lines

Bioethics 14 (3):187–204 (2000)
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Western philosophy has been powerfully influenced by a paradigm of personal agency that is linked to an individualistic conception of autonomy. This essay contrasts this conception with an alternative understanding that recognizes a social component built into the very meaning of autonomy. After reviewing feminist critiques of the dominant conception of autonomy, I develop the broad outlines of a relational view and apply this reconceptualization to a concrete situation in order to show how this altered view reconfigures understanding of the participants' relationships and each of their personal perspectives. The situation chosen, physician‐assisted suicide, is intended principally to illustrate one respect in which a relational conception of autonomy reframes a controversial moral issue and reveals perspectives toward it that are likely to be obscured when autonomy is viewed through the lens of the dominant individualistic conception. My principal aim is to show that when autonomy is understood relationally, respecting others' autonomy is likely to be a far more complex issue than is apparent within the standard conception, both for those with professional responsibilities and often for personal intimates as well.



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