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When patients refuse to receive medical treatment, the consequences of honouring their decisions can be tragic. This is no less true of patients who autonomously decide to refuse treatment. I distinguish three possible implications of these autonomous decisions. According to the Permissibility Claim, such a decision implies that it is permissible for the patient who has made the autonomous decision to forego medical treatment. According to the Anti-Paternalism Claim, it follows that health-care professionals are not morally permitted to treat that patient. According to the Binding Claim it follows that these decisions are binding on health-care professionals. My focus is the last claim. After arguing that it is importantly different from each of the first two claims, I give two arguments to show that it is false. One argument against the Binding Claim draws a comparison with cases in which patients autonomously choose perilous positive treatments. The other argument appeals to considered judgments about cases in which disincentives are used to deter patients from refusing sound treatments.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy University of Tennessee 801 McClung Tower Knoxville TN 37996-0480 USA, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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