The Fight for Personal Autonomy and Informed Consent Autonomy as a Human Right

Personal Autonomy and Informed Consent — Autonomy as a Human Right

Does our culture promote fairness, equality with liberty, and justice for all? Are the 10 basic human rights a reality or a pipe dream? Many feel autonomy as a human right is diminishing, not increasing. See why this matters.

Autonomy isn’t just an abstract concept but a fundamental aspect of life. Everyone needs autonomy and informed consent. You need these rights to make the right decisions about what you believe is important in your life.   Unfortunately, some cultures have laws that restrict what you can n do with your own body. (1)

Informed consent, we will investigate in more detail later on. It is simply the ability to choose after you are made aware of all the facts and implications of the decision.

10 Basic Human Rights

1) All People are free and equal

2) The right to a fair democratic process for their government

3) Freedom of personal autonomy or bodily autonomy and privacy where autonomy as a human right is protected

4) The right to live in a society governed by fair laws

5) Right to basic survival needs. These are healthy food, water, shelter, and medical care. These fundamental survival needs should be available to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status

6) Freedom of thought and the right not to choose a religion

7) Live free of servitude, torture, or disparate treatment

8) To have equal and fair access to education

9) Freedom of expression as long as it does not harm others

10) The right to live from persecution by people or the government

Autonomy as a Human Right

All rights are based on the ability to act as one sees fit as long as one doesn’t infringe upon one’s rights or adversely affect others or the planet. This statement summarizes 10 basic human rights (2) and implies that the individual has autonomy and informed consent to make good decisions.

Autonomy is the individual’s freedom to make practical, ethical, and moral decisions. It implies the individual has access to the information necessary to make decisions free of bias and prejudice. It includes the ability to think and express oneself peacefully.

Autonomy as a human right means you can make decisions that affect your life. Autonomy is fragile. If you are in a lower socioeconomic class, your right to make decisions about your life is reduced by your level of access. Laws and cultural practices can also limit bodily autonomy and the rights of discretion. In some cultures, limiting the personal decision-making ability of women or other groups is the law. It goes against the concept of autonomy as a human right.

Justice is the social platform of fairness, equality, and equity. Liberty is based on the level of freedom a culture allows. However, the degree of social liberty can be diminished if you are born in the wrong culture where they give preferential treatment to one gender, racial or ethnic group.

The 10 basic human rights exist on a continuum. The greater the bandwidth of autonomy and independence, the more options you have to make decisions about your life. In a utopian society, everyone has a high level of freedom, and the laws ensure there are no inequities or inequalities. In the ideal society, everyone has a great deal of autonomy. Sadly, this society doesn’t exist. But it is possible. The ideal provides us with a noble goal.

When the bandwidth of these 10 basic human rights shrinks, it affects everyone. Losing rights for one affects everyone’s right to pursue happiness and live freely. Sadly, these rights are not distributed equally. (3)

A just and fair government aims to promote fairness and equality. It provides an environment where autonomy and informed consent are available to make the best decisions. It removes disparities and moves toward the utopian ideal. A corrupt government does just the opposite. Instead, it promotes preferential treatment and inequity. Sound familiar?

Do you see any of this happening? Are you or someone you know affected by these adverse social practices? Think about it.   You likely know someone who has been or is being affected by constraints or boundaries imposed by the culture.

With Liberty and Justice for All?

We can measure a society’s health by how it treats those with the least socioeconomic power and status—that is, those who suffer an adverse impact on the 10 basic human rights.

We can also examine a society to see if it promotes equality and equity. To do this, we look at the preferential treatment level given to any group. We can see if some laws or practices deny personal autonomy and basic human rights. We can identify any groups adversely affected by the loss of these rights. The more of these inequities, the less healthy the culture. It’s as simple as that.

Some cultures are built on a foundation of inequality. There is preferential treatment for some and denial of basic rights for others. Saudi Arabia is a good example. Here is a culture that allows preferential treatment for the elite and affluent, about one percent of the population. These are the ruling ministers, governors, and people connected to the Saudi royal family. So, just because these cultures have existed for long periods does not mean they are healthy. The cancer of these ideologies tends to spread.

Personal Autonomy and Basic Human Rights

The US Constitution guarantees everyone the right to life, liberty, and the security of his person. The right to life includes provisions that restrict the State from killing you without a trial. Liberty is defined as freedom from arbitrary and unreasonable restraint. Personal security refers to the right to make decisions that support one’s interests.

You can forget what the Constitution says. Instead, look at how the culture actually works. All these rights are interpreted differently by the courts and society in general. Was the Constitution designed to guarantee freedom with liberty and justice for all or just some? How do special interest groups take control of the highest positions in government and use this power to undermine this basic idea? It should be impossible. But the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade shows what happens when religious bias and prejudice infest the government.

Self-governance requires moral independence. Bodily autonomy is the beginning of all freedoms. All personal freedoms begin with the unconditional liberty to decide what you can do with your body. No other liberties can survive without this liberty. If you are not free to do what you want with your body, then you are a prisoner, an enslaved person, or both.

How does a culture decide it is time to infringe upon this most fundamental of all personal rights? It does this when religion takes control. Religion has always been concerned with controlling procreation. It does so precisely because it undermines personal freedom. When personal autonomy and basic human rights can be taken away for one group, it can do so with others.

Religions have dictated who can have a family relationship. They call this the institution of marriage. It is the law of the land. In the past, religions used this to boost their membership by encouraging large families. At the same time, they made laws against other relationships that did not follow their pattern.

Autonomy and Informed Consent

The term informed consent comes from the medical community. It is when a patient gives consent for the physician to perform a procedure after being made aware of the potential consequences. In this way, the patient makes decisions after being fully informed. They know all the things that could happen. This declaration gives the physician permission and also absolves them from any legal action by the patient for the consequences.

This concept relates directly to the 10 basic human rights. This level of autonomy should be the right of every individual, regardless of gender.   Why is the decision about parenthood any different?

Let’s look more closely at two issues that impact our autonomy and informed consent and our autonomy and independence.

Decisions about Parenthood

If you want to adopt a child in the United States, you must show your ability to care for the child. That makes sense. Most states require you to be at least twenty-five years old. The assumption is this is the minimum age someone is mature enough to care for a child. You must also demonstrate you have the financial resources and home for the child to live in. Again, this makes sense.


To adopt a child, you must also show that you have sufficient resources to care for the child. Normally, this means you have a stable career and earn at least 60,000 per year, but some states require more.

Some states give preference to those who are married. A single person can adopt a child, but they must have ample resources. These standards seem to make common sense.

Parental Decision?

Now, let’s say you are a thirteen-year-old girl. Would you be able to adopt a child? The answer is no. What if you were 19 and rich? The answer is still no.

But, the same thirteen-year-old girl gets pregnant. Many states forbid her and her family from deciding to abort the pregnancy. It does not matter that she is not mature enough to handle raising a child, nor does it matter that she lacks the resources to raise a child. No option to abort the pregnancy even if she was raped. Why? Because those in control have their reasons for forcing birth.

Some claim the rights of the unborn supersede those of the mother. But the right to life ends at birth. Right-to-life advocates stop at birth. From that point on, they don’t care about the mother’s or child’s health care. They don’t care if the mother is mature enough or has the resources.

The states with the largest percentage of children given for adoption are the corporate home of the adoption industry.

Autonomy and Independence Increase with Wealth

If you want to adopt a healthy white male baby, get in line. But you can skip to the head of the line if you can pay for it. If you can afford the 100K+ adoption process, you can adopt. See, that’s easy. The adoption industry is the power behind the movement to undermine bodily autonomy.

This is an example of freedom with liberty and justice for all or just some. It means those with the highest socioeconomic brackets have more choices and rights than others. It means those at the lower end of the income spectrum are used as breeding stock, just like in The Handmaiden’s Tale.   Fiction has become a cruel reality. Personal autonomy and basic human rights have become a pipe dream.

There are potential solutions, but it is an uphill battle. The Supreme Court has become biased toward right-wing values. To correct this imbalance, we must take steps to now to secure a future for democracy. Are we going to impeach those on the court who obtained their position through nefarious and unlawful means? Or are we going to restore balance by adding qualified, unbiased individuals? When the 10 basic human rights are diminished and restricted for any person, it affects everyone.

(1) A non-ideal authenticity-based conceptualization of personal autonomy

(2) Interpreting the International Right to Health in a Human Rights-Based Approach to Health: 

(3) Social Justice and Social Order: Binding Moralities across the Political Spectrum: