, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 269-279

From human ability to ethical principle: An intercultural perspective on autonomy

Abstract

Based on an empirical study regarding ethical challenges within intercultural health care, the focus of this article is upon autonomy and disclosure, discussed in light of philosophy and anthropology. What are the consequences for patients if the patients’ right to be autonomous and to participate in treatment and care decisions by health care workers is interpreted as an obligation to participate? To force a person to make independent choices who is socio-culturally unprepared to do so, may violate his/her integrity. This may in turn jeopardise the respect, integrity and human worth the principle of autonomy was meant to ensure, and if so, may damage any relationship of trust that may exist between patient and health care worker. There is necessarily a link between autonomy and disclosure. Western disclosure practices may make the relationship between patients and health care workers difficult -- even distrustful. To confront a patient with a very serious diagnosis may be seen not only as a tactless action, but also an unforgivable one. Hence, among many ethnic groups it is a family member’s duty to shield patients from bad or disquieting news, e.g., a cancer diagnosis. If a family member is used to interpret in such situations, will the information given equal the information communicated by that interpreter? Even though respect for a person’s autonomy is part of the respect for a person, one’s respect for the person in question should not depend on his/her ability or aptitude to act autonomously.