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Fostering relational autonomy in end-of-life care: a procedural approach and three-dimensional decision-making model
  1. Kar-Fai Foo1,
  2. Ya-Ping Lin1,2,
  3. Cheng-Pei Lin3,4,
  4. Yu-Chun Chen5
  1. 1Institute of Public Health, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, Taipei, Taiwan
  2. 2Department of Medical Humanities and Education, School of Medicine, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, Taipei, Taiwan
  3. 3Institute of Community Health Care, College of Nursing, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, Taipei, Taiwan
  4. 4Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy and Rehabilitation, King's College London, London, UK
  5. 5Department of Nursing, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ya-Ping Lin, Department of Medical Humanities and Education, School of Medicine, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, Taipei, Taiwan; arete{at}


Respect for patient autonomy is paramount in resolving ethical tensions in end-of-life care. The concept of relational autonomy has contributed to this debate; however, scholars often use this concept in a fragmented manner. This leads to partial answers on ascertaining patients’ true wishes, meaningfully engaging patients’ significant others, balancing interests among patients and significant others, and determining clinicians’ obligations to change patients’ unconventional convictions to enhance patient autonomy. A satisfactory solution based on relational autonomy must incorporate patients’ competence (apart from decisional capacity), authenticity (their true desires or beliefs) and the involvement level of their significant others. To that end, we argue that John Christman’s procedural approach to relational autonomy provides critical insights, such as the diachronic or socio-historical personhood, sustained critical reflection and his recent explication of the nature of asymmetrical relationships and helpful interlocutors. This study reviews Christman’s account, proposes minor modifications and advocates for an integrated three-dimensional model for medical decision-making. Clarifying the relationship among the three elements promotes an ethical framework with a coherent understanding of relational autonomy. This model not only provides a descriptive and normative framework for end-of-life care practice but also reconsiders the nature of the clinician–patient relationship and its normative implications. We further present a case study to illustrate the merits of our proposed model. Altogether, our proposal will help navigate complex medical decision-making, foster trust and negotiate shared values between patients and their significant others, particularly in end-of-life care.

  • Relational Autonomy
  • Personhood
  • Decision Making
  • Terminal Care
  • Professional-Patient Relations

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  • K-FF and Y-PL are joint first authors.

  • Twitter @YaPingLIN84

  • Contributors KFF and YPL contributed equally to this work. All listed authors contributed to the conceptualisation of the manuscript. CPL and YCC critically reviewed and revised the manuscript. All listed authors approve the final manuscript and accept accountability for all aspects of the work. No AI technology has been used throughout the drafting and revision of the manuscript. YPL is the guarantor of the study.

  • Funding This study was funded by Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (MOST 111-2314-B-A49 -012 -MY3).

  • Competing interests None declared.

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

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