In healthcare ethics, autonomy has arguably become the ‘principal principle’. As a principle that can be readily turned into a process, the giving of ‘informed consent’ by a patient has become the surrogate measure of whether medical interventions are ethically acceptable. While ‘informed consent’ processes in medical care are presumed to be robust, research confirms that most patients do not adequately understand the medical purpose, limitations or potential ethical implications of the many medical procedures to which they consent. In this chapter, we argue that the founding tenets of autonomy and informed consent which presume people to be detached autonomous individuals who act rationally from self‐interest does not authentically capture the essence of human ‘being’. Furthermore, such assumptions do not acknowledge the deeply relational and embedded reality of the human condition which inevitably shape decision making. We contend that within healthcare organisations, the current processes of operationalising informed consent predominantly serve legal and administrative needs, while unwittingly disempowering patients, and silencing key aspects of their experience of illness. Rather than rational self‐interest, we argue that vulnerability, interdependence and trust lie at the core of ethical decision making in healthcare. Re‐framing autonomy in a way that deliberately considers the unique moral frameworks, relationships, and cultures of individuals can provide a more ethically sensitive and respectful basis for decision making in healthcare. As interdependence is an integral consideration in decision making, it must be deliberately acknowledged and incorporated into healthcare practices. Embracing a narrative approach within a shared decision making framework allows the vulnerabilities, fears and aspirations of stakeholders to be heard, creating a more effective and authentic way to meet the ethical goal of respecting those who seek care.
Part of the book: Bioethics