Feminist perspectives of autonomy in bioethics

Visual by Riya Srivastava

As in moral psychology generally, autonomy is viewed by feminist writers as self-government or self-direction: acting on one's own motivations, justifications, or values is what it is to be autonomous. Because it was believed to support unattractive "masculinist" ideals of personhood, the concept of autonomy was initially viewed with suspicion in early feminist literature. In other words, it was seen to presuppose a view of the person as "atomistic," as being self-sufficient, working in a vacuum unaffected by social ties, or as an abstract reasoner free of swaying forces like emotions. Recently, feminism has attempted to revive the idea of autonomy. Some have claimed that understanding gender discrimination and related ideas like objectification depend on being able to articulate the conditions of autonomous choice. Therefore, the task before feminist theorists is to rethink autonomy from a feminist standpoint. In order to distinguish feminist reconceptualisations of autonomy from ideas of autonomy that are perceived to assume atomistic views of the self, the phrase "relational autonomy" is frequently used. The feminist motive in bioethics is also discoursing the commercialisation of women and its unhealthy beauty standards, which are largely reciprocated.

Studies by Yale and Harvard concentrating explicitly on women's interests and vulnerabilities have also resulted from the growing interest in public health research ethics in general. Some bioethicists and doctors reduce autonomy to informed consent and limit its exercise in medical practice to a patient's selection of options from a constrained range of clinical options, which is a related form of decontextualisation. This interpretation of the autonomy principle ignores the settings that patients bring to their medical experiences, the institutional power dynamics and social surroundings that affect their choices, and the agendas of medical research that influence them. Carolyn Ells builds on this criticism by using Foucault's study of biopower to argue that informed decision-making requires an explicit relational framework that sees power relations as pervasive throughout society.

In many ways, feminist health care movements and feminist bioethics have long anticipated the key ideas and pressing issues of public health ethics. In addition to being concerned with health inequities on a national and international level, how they operate, and how they can be reduced or eliminated in public health, public health ethics also crucially brings a broader perspective that includes an interest in how these inequities come about in the first place. With the advent of commercialisation, women were expected to be confined by the beauty standards which are motivated by the plasticization and capitalisation of the body and feeding the norms which are skewed, having no scars, no scales, be fair- to be acceptable and non-ostracised. This compulsion to confine to manufactured use of consummated makeup products to look appealing has had a diametrical opposition on seeing how sustainability and feminism co-existalong each other. However, the majority of relational autonomy explanations tend to place less emphasis on method and more emphasis on shifting the autonomous self model from an individualistic one to one rooted in a social context.. In contrast to the more clinically-focused ethical issues that predominated the subject in its early decades, public health ethics have experienced a surge in attention across the board in bioethics. It also points out that from a feminist perspective, we explore not just the relationships between gender, disadvantage, and health but also how power is distributed throughout the many public health systems, from policymaking to programme implementation.



Bioethics: An introduction


Feminist perspective on Bioethics and relevance in the contemporary century


The conception of autonomy in Bioethics


Kaushiki Ishwar is an undergraduate student at Miranda House, Delhi University. They take special interest in feminist philosophy and epistemology. Having a knack for interdisciplinary research and chucking multiple cups of coffee is the constant that they maintain.

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