Protecting Privacy: Judicial Decision-Making in Search of a Principle

Dissertation, Georgetown University (1984)
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In recent legal cases in medical ethics, the courts have had a tendency to interpret privacy as a synonym for other values and have sought to protect these values by protecting privacy. In cases involving competent individuals, the courts have interpreted privacy as a synonym for the value of self determination. In cases involving incompetent individuals, privacy has been interpreted as a synonym for the value of self-determination , and a synonym for human welfare and self-determination . The purpose of this dissertation is to demonstrate that the use of privacy as a surrogate for other values has resulted in ambiguity concerning the legal protections of privacy and other values and the moral justifications for legal decisions purporting to protect privacy and these values. This demonstration is accomplished by analyzing recent court decisions in medical ethics cases involving privacy protections within the contexts of contraception, procreation, abortion, and treatment refusals. It is concluded that appealing to the constitutional right of privacy is not the appropriate approach for the courts to take in attempting to protect the values of self-determination and human welfare in the case of both competent and incompetent individuals. When these values, and not privacy, are protected by the courts within the contexts of contraception, procreation, abortion, and treatment refusals on behalf of competent and incompetent individuals, the courts' decision-making can be justified by the moral principles of autonomy and beneficence



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