incapable of exercising full autonomy. As the advocates of medical rights themselves insist, voluntary consent or refusal must be fully informed. But patients and subjects lack both the knowledge of medical science and the familiarity with similar cases that is required for any accurate and reliable assessment of either the relative advantages of alternative therapies or the risks of a medical experiment. Moreover, when one is ill, as every patient and subject of clinical research is, one becomes insecure, dependent, and psychologically less able to confront difficult choices calmly, clearly, and rationally. What respect for autonomy really requires in most medical contexts is that the physician restore the patient to full autonomy and not submit to unwise decisions in the name of a spurious autonomy.
These critics also maintain that the argument for medical rights as protections for the well-being of the patient or the subject of research is even weaker. When one is ill or suffering from some disability, what one needs first and foremost for one's well-being is being well; what one needs is to be cured or at least to receive the most effective medical treatment. Therefore, medical authority ought to be in the hands of the physician, whose medical knowledge and dedication to the preservation of the health and very life of the patient are by far the most reliable protections of his well-being. One should, of course, choose a conscientious physician who will fulfill her professional duties. But whatever may be true of other areas of human life, in the medical context it is the good of the patient, not his rights, that should come first. After all, why should anyone, least of all the patient, value medical rights when they so often endanger rather than protect the patient's well-being? Here, as in previous chapters, we see that the recent proliferation of alleged moral and actual legal rights remains controversial.
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Publication information: Book title: The Proliferation of Rights:Moral Progress or Empty Rhetoric?. Contributors: Carl Wellman - Author. Publisher: Westview Press. Place of publication: Boulder, CO. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 164.
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