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Document Details :
Title: The Sanctity of Autonomy?
Subtitle: Transcending the Opposition between a Quality of Life and a Sanctity of Life Ethic
Author(s): MEULENBERGS, Tom , SCHOTSMANS, Paul
Volume: 62 Issue: 3 Date: 2001
The current debate on euthanasia in the Lowlands is a perfect examplification of the predominance of the principle of respect for autonomy in present-day medical-ethical decisionmaking. The aim of this article is the exploration of the more fundamental philosophical issues concerning the current status of autonomy in medical ethics.
The starting point for this exploration is an analysis of the principle of respect for autonomy. The authors argue that the view on autonomy in contemporary bioethical discussions is more related to the Millian understanding of autonomy rather than to Kant’s conception of respect for autonomy. The uncompromising veneration of personal autonomy and the subsequent view on the human self as unencumbered is placed under critique because this portrayal of the human person is rather unreal especially in medical-ethical decisionmaking where the fragility of human life is at stake. Furthermore, extending the claims of autonomy risks to undermine the public sphere.
The defence of the principle of autonomy is taken on by the quality-of-life ethic that values human life because of its qualities. Being capable of making autonomous decisions is one of this main qualities. By this, the quality-of-life approach runs counter to an idea that is deeply ingrained in medicine, viz. the sanctity of human life that holds both the inviolability and the equal value of human life. These two approaches can, however, be integrated in Christian ethics by adopting a view on quality-of-life judgements in which the proportionality of benefits and burdens (considered teleologically) has a pivotal function.
To conclude this article, the authors argue for a non-absolutist account of autonomy based on two modes of decentrement of the human self: (1) the fundamental passivity at the core of the human person and (2) the intersubjectivity of the human existence.