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Value of choice
  1. Tom Walker
  1. School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tom Walker, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1PB, UK; tom.walker{at}


Accounts of the value of patient choice in contemporary medical ethics typically focus on the act of choosing. Being the one to choose, it is argued, can be valuable either because it enables one to bring about desired outcomes, or because it is a way of enacting one’s autonomy. This paper argues that all such accounts miss something important. In some circumstances, it is having the opportunity to choose, not the act of choosing, that is valuable. That is because in many situations whether one has, or is denied, that opportunity conveys how one is seen. In particular, it conveys whether or not one is seen as an equal and competent member of society. Adequately recognising this fact has implications for what healthcare professionals should do, ones that require a move away from the current focus on autonomy. The paper draws out these implications by focusing on patients who may struggle to be recognised as competent and equal members of society, and whose autonomy may thus itself sometimes be in question.

  • competence/incompetence
  • ethics

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  • Presented at Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Queen’s University Belfast.

  • Contributors TW was the sole researcher and author of this paper.

  • Funding This study was funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/P007619/1).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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