What is it about?

Ethics is an important concept in healthcare. Autonomy is one of the four ethical principles which enables a patient to be involved in their own decision-making and care. A barrier of autonomy is that is can cause conflict with a healthcare professional when they are trying to perform their duty of care. As seen in this case study where an autonomous patient is refusing life-saving treatment from a paramedic. The patient is well within her right to refuse treatment, which is supported by law. This can understandably leave the paramedic feeling anxious and vulnerable around their professional duty of care.

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Why is it important?

An understanding on medical ethics, especially autonomy allows a professional’s decision making process. If a professional has underpinning knowledge of autonomy and how it is underpinned by law, they will be able to solve problems they may arise in their practice. It also enables a professional to understand from the patients perspective as to why they may want to refuse treatment.


From my own personal perspective, I believe that it is important to allow patients to make their own decisions in healthcare as much as they are able to do so. Viewing a patients journey from their own perspective enables a professional to understand and empathise with the patient. After all, service user empowerment now lies at the centre of today’s NHS. If we understand the law and ethics, it enables us to make better decisions that are patient centred. As long as all the necessary information has been given and decisions are based on informed consent, patients have the right to make their own choices around the health and care they receive. It is unprofessional and unethical to not take a patients wish into consideration when creating a care plan for them, and more opportunities need to be embraced to involve patients in their own care. In addition, if the professional has the underpinning knowledge around the law and ethics, they will be more confident in making decisions that respect a patients autonomy and can assist patients in their choices, as seen in this case study.

Emma Moore
Sheffield Hallam University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Respecting an autonomous decision to refuse life-saving treatment: a case study, Journal of Paramedic Practice, August 2020, Mark Allen Group,
DOI: 10.12968/jpar.2020.12.8.304.
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