Scientific article
Open access

The notion of free will and its ethical relevance for decision-making capacity

Published inBMC Medical Ethics, vol. 20, no. 31, p. 1-10
Publication date2019

Background: Obtaining informed consent from patients is a moral and legal duty and, thus, a key legitimation for medical treatment. The pivotal prerequisite for valid informed consent is decision-making capacity of the patient. Related to the question of whether and when consent should be morally and legally valid, there has been a longlasting philosophical debate about freedom of will and the connection of freedom and responsibility. Main text: The scholarly discussion on decision-making capacity and its clinical evaluation does not sufficiently take into account this fundamental debate. It is contended that the notion of free will must be reflected when evaluating decision-making capacity. Namely, it should be included as a part of the appreciation-criterion for decision-making capacity. The argumentation is mainly drawn on the compatibilism of Harry Frankfurt. Conclusions: A solution is proposed which at the same time takes the notion of free will seriously and enriches the traditional understanding of decision-making capacity, strengthening its justificatory force while remaining clinically applicable.

  • Informed consent
  • Decision-making capacity
  • Competence
  • Ethics
  • Free will
  • Autonomy
  • Authenticity
  • Compatibilism
  • Harry Frankfurt
Citation (ISO format)
ZÜRCHER, Tobias, ELGER, Bernice Simone, TRACHSEL, Manuel. The notion of free will and its ethical relevance for decision-making capacity. In: BMC Medical Ethics, 2019, vol. 20, n° 31, p. 1–10. doi: 10.1186/s12910-019-0371-0
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Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal1472-6939

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