Historical analysis of personal autonomy for prospective healthcare

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Dennis Moeke
Jeroen van Andel


Background: Today most healthcare providers have embraced the principle of personal autonomy as central to their strategic aims and objectives. However, amongst healthcare providers there exist many different views on what personal autonomy is and how it should be facilitated. Objectives: This study aims to explore how personal autonomy and related concepts such as individual liberty and individualism have been interpreted over theages, what this means for our current understanding of personal autonomy in healthcare and how this may aid current policy discussions.Methods: Qualitative investigation of historical views related to this topic. Results: Three major traditions can be identified, each of which defines preconditions for autonomous behavior. These preconditions are: (1) rationality and rational faculties, (2) individual rights and legislation and (3) free property rights, free market and free trade. It was found that the three historical traditions still play a key role in current discussions on personal autonomy in healthcare. Conclusions: A thorough understanding of these traditions may be quite helpful for health stakeholders in planning health services and policies.

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