Patient autonomy is a well-established principle in both U.S. law and Western medical ethics. When patients have decision making capacity, they decide to accept or decline medical interventions based on of their own goals and values. When medical decisions are made on behalf of children, the best interests standard replaces autonomy. Because children usually lack settled goals and values, the decision about medical care should be made in light of the best decision for the child. Within the context of early pregnancy, the mother’s autonomous preferences are legally recognized as sufficient to make decisions to continue or to terminate the pregnancy. Once the fetus reaches the stage of viability, however, things get a bit more complicated.
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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.