A contrast is often drawn between standard adult capacities for autonomy, which allow informed consent to be given or withheld, and patients' reduced capacities, which demand paternalistic treatment. But patients may not be radically different from the rest of us, in that all human capacities for autonomous action are limited. An adequate account of paternalism and the role that consent and respect for persons can play in medical and other practice has to be developed within an ethical theory that does not impose an idealised picture of unlimited autonomy but allows for the variable and partial character of actual human autonomy.
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