The notion of “relational” autonomy—as described by feminist scholars such as Susan Sherwin and Anne Donchin—has been the subject of a significant body of literature over the last few years and has recently generated some interest within the field of bioethics. Although the focus of this interest has been the autonomy of ordinary moral agents, the analysis of relational autonomy can usefully be extended to apply to the autonomy of professionals, not only as individual moral agents, but in their roles as professionals as well. In this paper, I argue that professional autonomy, rightly understood, is relational in nature. This understanding of professional autonomy stands to improve our understanding of professional ethics, as well as providing a particular, concrete example of what we mean when we call autonomy “relational” and “socially embedded.
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