THE PRINCIPLE OF AUTONOMY IN BIOETHICS: A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

The principle of autonomy is central to the field of secular and philosophical bioethics. The word autonomy comes from the Greek autos-nomos meaning “selfrule” or “self-determination”. It is the basis for the practice of "informed consent" in the physician/patient transaction regarding health care. Today, an autonomous decision might be described as one that is made freely and without undue influence, by a competent person, in full knowledge and understanding of the relevant information necessary to make such a decision. With regard to the issue of abortion, contraception, and reproductive health, the principle of autonomy has been used to justify the rights of the woman to make the choice and should be respected. It is, therefore, not surprising that in Catholic bioethics the principle of autonomy is not the ultimate value. It appears that the principle of autonomy cannot be a basis for Christian bioethics. The author cannot agree with this view. The paper will attempt to show the Christian heritage of the principle of autonomy. Two Christian thinkers will be considered namely: St. Augustine and Martin Luther. Each is well known and rightly cherished for his contribution to the development of Christian theology. The work of each of these will be interpreted in order to demonstrate the Christian roots of the principle of autonomy and its relevance to the construction of bioethics today. The paper will conclude with some preliminary observations on how that construction might proceed, if and when ethicists once again come to appreciate the value of spirituality and the moral traditions of Christianity for making the practice of bioethics both theoretically sound and practically effective.

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