Health problems often require fundamental decisions, which should be made by patients as autonomously as possible. Along with justice and beneficence, autonomy is one of the central principles of medical ethics.
Autonomous decision-making often places excessive demands on patients or is difficult to implement – for example, in emergencies or in the case of minors. It is also challenging for medical professionals to determine whether individuals are capable or (temporarily) incapable of making autonomous decisions; this requires a careful assessment of mental capacity.
In a series of symposiums held over five years, the Central Ethics Committee of the SAMS and the National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics (NCE) explored the concept of autonomy and the conditions underlying this central ethical principle.