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Respect for patient autonomy: The right to choice and self-determination

17 November 2023

Respect for patient autonomy underpins medical ethics and quality of healthcare. The patient, as the subject of treatment, has the right to make decisions about his or her health and treatment. The value of this autonomy is increasingly recognised in today's healthcare world, as taking into account the patient's preferences and choices can significantly improve the quality of care.


Patient autonomy is a fundamental concept in healthcare that captures the essence of self-determination and the patient's right to influence their treatment. It is the patient's ability to express their needs, values and goals in relation to their medical care. Patient autonomy implies that everyone has the right to full and comprehensible information about their condition and the available treatment options

It is also the right to consent to treatment or refuse it when the patient has concerns or doubts. Patient autonomy puts the patient's rights and preferences first, which influences the design of personalised treatment plans. It is also a spirit of partnership between the patient and medical staff, where both parties make healthcare decisions together.

Patient autonomy is not only a matter of law, but also a key element of medical ethics. Respecting patient autonomy is the basis for dignified and respectful healthcare. In practice, this means that medical staff are obliged to provide the patient with full information, assist in decision-making and take into account the patient's wishes and values.

It is worth understanding that patient autonomy is not just a formality, but a guarantee that healthcare is tailored to the individual needs and preferences of the patient. It is a right that emphasises that each patient is an individual with unique needs and values that should be respected in the treatment process. Patient autonomy is the foundation for ensuring that patients have control over their own health and the right to choose.

Why is patient autonomy important?

Respect for patient autonomy is the foundation of healthcare based on dignity and respect. It is not only a legally guaranteed right of the patient, but also a key element of humane medical care. So why is patient autonomy so important?

Firstly, respect for patient autonomy means that each patient is treated as an individual with their own rights and values. Each patient has his or her own unique health-related needs and preferences that should be taken into account in the treatment process. It is respect for these individual values that allows the patient to feel valued and respected as a person.

Secondly, patient autonomy ensures that healthcare is tailored to the specific needs of the patient. The patient has the right to information and choice, which allows him or her to actively participate in the treatment process. When the patient is involved in making decisions about his or her health, he or she is more motivated to comply with medical recommendations and engage in treatment.

Thirdly, respect for patient autonomy can significantly affect the effectiveness of treatment. When patients have control over their treatment, they are more engaged and motivated to achieve positive health outcomes. This allows for better chronic disease management, reduced risk of complications and improved quality of life.

It is worth emphasising that patient autonomy is not only a matter of law. It is also the foundation of a humane approach to healthcare, which emphasises the dignity and respect of each individual. Respect for patient autonomy contributes to building trust between the patient and medical staff, which is crucial for successful healthcare.

Right to consent

One of the key elements of patient autonomy is the right to consent to treatment. This is not just a formality, but a fundamental right that ensures that the patient is in control of his or her healthcare. The patient has the right to be fully and comprehensibly informed about any medical procedures that are proposed to him or her by medical personnel.

The patient should be informed about the purpose and nature of the proposed treatment, potential risks and side effects, as well as alternative treatment options. This means that the doctor is obliged to clearly explain to the patient what is expected from the procedure, what the effects of the procedure may be, and whether there are other treatment options.

However, the treatment decision always remains with the patient. The patient has the right to consent to or refuse the proposed treatment. This right is a fundamental element of respect for patient autonomy. It means that the patient has the right to choose what steps will be taken in his/her treatment and to express his/her preferences and concerns.


Respect for patient autonomy contributes to building a partnership between patient and medical staff. This is not only a matter of medical ethics, but also a key element of effective healthcare.

When the doctor listens to the patient and takes their preferences into account, it opens the door to open and honest communication. This trust and understanding leads to more personalised care. The patient, feeling listened to and accepted, is more likely to share their concerns and health needs.

In a patient-doctor partnership, treatment decisions are made together. The doctor provides medical information and the patient expresses their preferences and concerns. This joint decision allows the individual needs of the patient to be taken into account, and improves cooperation in the treatment process.

The patient-doctor partnership is not only a benefit for the patient, but also for the medical staff. By working with the patient as a partner, doctors and nurses can better understand the patient's life context and the psychosocial aspects of health. This leads to a more holistic approach to healthcare.

As a result, respecting the autonomy of the patient and building a patient-doctor partnership contributes to improving the quality of healthcare and increasing the effectiveness of treatment. This also manifests the essence of the humanisation of medicine, where the patient is not just a medical case, but a person whose dignity and rights are absolutely respected.