Graduation Year

2002

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Philosophy

Major Professor

Truitt, Willis H.

Keywords

Hormone Therapy, Menopause, Autonomy, Beneficence, Rights

Abstract

The doctrine of informed consent, defined as respect for autonomy, is the tool used to govern the relationship between physicians and patients. Its framework relies on rights and duties that mark these relationships. The main purpose of informed consent is to promote human rights and dignity. Some researchers claim that informed consent has successfully replaced patientsʹ historical predispositions to accept physicians' advice without much explicit resistance.

Although the doctrine of informed consent promotes ideals worth pursuing, a successful implementation of these ideals in practice has yet to occur. What has happened in practice is that attorneys, physicians, and hospital administrators often use consent forms mainly to protect physicians and medical facilities from liability. Consequently, ethicists, legal theorists, and physicians need to do much more to explain how human rights and human dignity relate to the practice of medicine and how the professionals can promote them in practice.

This is especially important because patients' vulnerability has increased just as the complexity and power of medical science and technology have increased. Certain health care practices can shed light on the difficulties of implementing the doctrine of informed consent and explain why it is insufficient to protect patients' rights and dignity. Defining a normal biological event as a disease, and routinely prescribing hormone drug therapy to menopausal women for all health conditions related to menopause, does not meet the standards of free informed consent.

Clinicians provide insufficient disclosure about risks related to long-term use of hormone therapies and about the absence of solid evidence to support their bias toward hormone therapies as a treatment of choice for menopause related health conditions. The contributing problem is women's failure to act as autonomous agents because they either choose not to take an active part in their own therapy or because they fear to question physicians' medical authority. To insure that patients' autonomy and free choice are a part of every physician-patient interaction, physicians and patients need actively to promote them as values that are absolutely indispensable in physicians' offices, clinics, and hospitals.

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