Autonomy is an independence or freedom in regards to one's will or actions. The term also applies to self-governing countries or communities. Simply put, someone who is autonomous makes decisions or takes actions based on his own thoughts or opinions. He is not influenced by outside considerations, desires or coercion. Autonomy is often discussed in regard to medicine and politics and has both advantages and disadvantages in both situations.
Advantages in Medicine
Patient autonomy in medicine is a fairly new concept, originating about 50 years ago and still being implemented today. In the past, medicine was more paternalistic and doctors were seen as experts who possessed knowledge and skills that their patients did not. Doctors were encouraged to make treatment decisions for their patients. The treatment plan a doctor chooses can be influenced by the patient's sex, race, age, socioeconomic status or any number of other factors. Taking the decision away from the patient could potentially result in an inappropriate treatment plan. Using the autonomy model, doctors are encouraged to share their knowledge with their patients, explaining both the condition itself and all possible courses of treatment. The patient is then charged with making a treatment decision for herself, allowing her to choose the treatment plan best suited for her.
Disadvantages in Medicine
The main disadvantage of encouraging patients to make their own decisions regarding treatments is that the average person does not have any biological or medical knowledge. Often, with complex medical conditions, the explanations and terminology is difficult to understand and the patient may make a crucial treatment decision even though he does not fully understand what the doctor has told him. In addition to encouraging patients to make their own decisions, doctors must be sure that their patients fully understand all available treatment options before proceeding.
Advantages in Politics
Political autonomy is much-debated and criticised concept. Certain countries, including Russia, China and the Philippines, have areas of autonomy. These areas are free from the authority of the country in which they reside and are policed and governed by their own groups. There are even autonomous regions in the United States. Most people know these as Indian reservations. Autonomous areas are typically formed in areas that are geographically different from the rest of a country or where a large minority population exists. Autonomy allows these areas to manage their own natural resources and protect their population.
Disadvantages in Politics
Autonomous regions within a country are not bound by the same laws as the country. They may make their own laws as long as the laws are in compliance with the agreement or treaty they made with the country. This means that laws in autonomous regions could conflict with the laws of the country. Native American reservations in the United States, for example, allow gambling and do not have hunting restrictions. Casinos are allowed on reservation land, even in states where gambling is illegal, and Native Americans are not required to obey hunting laws when hunting on their own land. Differing laws have the potential to cause conflicts over resources.