Bioethical principles

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Bioethics -Bios meaning life- involves the application of general normative ethical theories, principles and rules to medical practice, the allocation of health care resources and research. Medical and pharmaceutical ethics are sub-groupings within the diverse and interdisciplinary endeavour which bioethics has become. Within the ethical literature there are to be found fundamental and derived principles which are particularly important:

This is derived from the Greek autos (self) and nomos (rule). It holds that a person has a right to non interference, to make decisions for oneself and to be self determining. Obviously, observance of this principle incurs an obligation not to constrain unnecessarily the actions of others acting autonomously. These are also sometimes called countervailing rights. This perspective is often referred to as the "principle of respect for persons". Under this come two essential features of autonomy, which are acting freely and deliberating rationally. The application of the principle of autonomy raises questions involving the doctor-patient relationship. Eg. Why should a patient act on a physician’s advice?

What freedom do we have to reject doctors' advice? How far should a doctor expect someone to act on her advice? What freedom has a health care practitioner to meet her patient's wishes? What authority does a health care practitioner's expert knowledge give her over her patients? Does an expert knowledge also empower one with moral authority? A very important way of giving autonomy is to ensure informed and valid consent. This involves giving adequate information which is understood, rather than just a signed form.

Further, AUTONOMY must be free and voluntary, and requires the person to have competence. This is obviously a problem with regard to children and those of perceived lessened capacity. An important concept in the law is that of what is "reasonable" with regard to the...