RESPECT FOR PATIENT AUTONOMY

Perhaps the most basic principle in health care ethics today, this value calls for respecting the genuinely held values and beliefs of patients and having decisions about the care of the patient be guided by these values and beliefs. The idea here is that in part what gives human beings dignity is their ability to think about and make sense of their lives and to make decisions for themselves based on this cognitive ability. The thinking continues that if someone was able to make meaning of their lives, there is no reason why this thinking should not survive their ability to actively participate in decision-making. Respecting this thinking is indeed one way to continue to honour and respect the dignity of what is now a particularly vulnerable human being. According to this principle, patient values and beliefs should guide decision-making about a patient’s care even if the resulting decision is inconsistent with what care providers or family members may have chosen. When a patient is not able to participate in decision-making about their care or treatment plan, an appropriate substitute decision-making process should be put in place.

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