Special Issue Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the First Publication of The Principles of Biomedical Ethics by Tom L. Beauchamp and James F. Childress.
This essay explores three issues in respect for autonomy that pose unfinished business for the concept. By this, I mean that the dialogue over them is ongoing and essentially unresolved. These are: (1) whether we ought to respect persons or their autonomous choices; (2) the role of relational autonomy; and (3) whether nonhuman animals can be autonomous. In attending to this particular set of unfinished business, I highlight some critical moral work left aside by the concept of respect for autonomy as understood in Beauchamp and Childress’ Principles of Biomedical Ethics. Specifically, while significant pragmatic traction is gained by the authors’ focus on autonomous choice, carving such a focus out from the broader questions of moral respect and the autonomy of the person leaves aside a number of questions that we might have thought a view about respect for autonomy in biomedicine ought to answer. These include: How should physicians respond when autonomous patients make decisions that appear nonautonomous? What is the impact of the view that autonomy is “relational” for cross-cultural differences in how autonomy is respected? If chimpanzees (and by extension young children) can be autonomous, what does that mean for how they should be treated?