The limits of autonomy
An exploration of the role of autonomy in the debate about assisted suicide
in Ethical and legal debates in Irish healthcare
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This chapter provides an analysis of the main ethical issues which arise in the debate about assisted suicide, with particular attention to the role played by the concept of autonomy in the discussion. The concept of autonomy plays a prominent role in justifying claims that a terminally-ill person should have a right to determine the point at which his or her life should end. However, opponents of assisted suicide argue both that such claims distort the meaning of autonomy and that autonomy should not be prioritised when its exercise threatens the rights or interests of healthcare professionals, family members or others. The chapter attempts to determine whether the concept of autonomy is capable of supporting the arguments on both sides of the discussion which rely on it. It examines briefly the evolution of the concept of autonomy in healthcare generally and analyses the role played by arguments from autonomy in support of, and against, the permissibility of assisted dying/suicide. It provides a critique of the use of the concept of autonomy on both sides of the debate and examine the implications of this critique for the validity of the concept of autonomy in healthcare more generally.

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