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Rights, Duties, and Limits of Autonomy

  • H.E. Emson (a1)

In the language of secular bioethics, autonomy is always accorded first place in the hierarchy of values that has come to be referred to as the “Georgetown mantra” A dictionary definition of mantra is “a verbal spell, ritualistic incantation, or mystic formula used devotionally,” and the value placed upon autonomy is largely of this nature: uncritical and uncriticised. That there should be and are limits to autonomy is obvious, but these boundaries are undefined, little discussed, and mostly unexplored. To use another metaphor, our emphasis on autonomy is an index of how far the pendulum has swung in an understandable and partly justifiable reaction from, earlier paternalism; has this swing approached its proper limit, and should we be seeking a less extreme and more balanced assessment of autonomy as a bioethical value?

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HE Emson . Rights, duties and responsibilities in health care. Journal of Applied Philosophy 1992;9:312.

R Steinbrook , B Lo . The Oregon Medicaid Demonstration Project; will it provide adequate medical care? New England Journal of Medicine 1992;326:340–4.

HH Hiatt . Protecting the Medical Commons; who is responsible? New England Journal of Medicine 1975;293:235–41.

RD Trugg , AS Brett , J Frader . The problem with futility. New England Journal of Medicine 1992;326:1560–4.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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