The Importance of Patient Autonomy

Posted by Benjamin Baron on

Most people see a handful of doctors, some good some bad. Pro tip: signs of a good doctor is believing in and practicing patient autonomy. This would mean they support things like: getting second opinions, being able to choose the specific treatment you desire and think is best for you, and the opportunity to select the alternative treatments that you desire, openly and freely, and without hassle but help from "the expert'. Autonomy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: the quality or state of being self-governing. When we refer to patient autonomy, we are saying that every individual who is in need of medical treatment has the right to decide for themselves what is best.

Patient autonomy is not something that is often at the forefront of discussion when it comes to our interaction with physicians, nurse practitioners, or other medical and health professionals around our medical decisions. It is very common that someone will just accept what the doctor has to say about the particular circumstance, diagnosis, or treatment plan and leave it at that. Sometimes, and especially in times of crisis, emergency, or times of high emotional energy, such as fear and anxiety. Individuals will just lean into what they are told from one person and not seek overarching advice. It’s beyond common education to understand both the importance of and need to refer to multiple sources when it comes to medical decision making. This is especially true in the Western world where we are given the societal pressure of "now" to make a decision, instead of taking a step back to consider lifelong health and wellness, holistic health, or even alternative therapies or medicines.

Patient's have a right to defend their judgments against decisions that do not coincide with what the physician believes is beneficial to the patient. This is essentially a legal right throughout the Western world, and sets a precedent for what is the most dominant principle affecting patient rights. While a doctor may still attempt to explain things such as treatment to a patient with the idea of the patient's best interest in mind, it will always come down to what a patient wants to decide for themselves.[1] Could you imagine a world where you have the right to request information about all of the medications being prescribed to you, their effects and side-effects, and then to be offered alternative choices? Wouldn't it be a great idea for insurance companies to provide their support to "alternative medicine" treatments that actually work to heal the issue, instead of just treating the illness? Sadly, there is no money to be gained in actually curing the illness, and most insurance companies, pharmaceutical conglomerates, and lobbyists and interested investors know this.

Part of the systemic issue in healthcare these days is that patient's have forgotten that they have rights to decide and choose the things that they believe are best for themselves. Most patients who are dealing with long-term health issues lean into Doctors to answer all of their questions, blindly accepting what is handed to them as law. This process has led to an issue within the industry where these very physicians have developed a "God Complex '' because of their expertise. There are unfortunate stories of people who have gone out of their way to have their needs met and issues treated. Some of these people have been dismissed as "Doctor Shopping", paired with accusations of being misinformed. and those who have had "more permanent damage to [their] body and mind than all of their illnesses combined" simply because a medical professional stated that the symptoms they are experiencing are not real symptoms.[2] I could never envision what it might be like to go into a physician's office and ask for their expertise, and then to be told that everything was in my head, or that I was making it up. This is why patient autonomy is so important!

In the Western world, there is not always an opportunity to consider alternative treatments or therapies. I'm not just talking about sitting in "positive thoughts" to cure cancer, either (though this is a growing awareness around vibration and cellular health). We are talking about the idea that you have the right to choose something that you may feel or know is best for you, even if it goes against what the doctor thinks is best. Educate yourself on various treatments, on the Paths others have forged to their health and wellness, and gain the knowledge about the importance of everything from positive thought frequency to eating healthy. Alternative medicine, such as shamanic journeying, health and wellness journals, and guided meditations, are all things that you have a right to choose.

Never forget that your favored Physician (and I do want to say there are some really good, caring, and loving medical professionals out there that do truly wish to help) is human, too. Which means they can make mistakes. The medical establishment is a bit of an addict… What can happen when neither alternative nor conventional doctors have the answers? Denial. This denial may come in the form of mislabeling a condition, instead of saying "I don't know." It may come in the form of prescribing drugs or diets that hinder instead of heal. Or sometimes a physician may express that denial as dismissal - and refer a patient to a psychiatrist to 'help" the patient with symptoms the physician insists are psychosomatic… It's time for the medical communities to be honest and open, to accept that medical model needs to adapt and move forward… if we're to avoid several more decades of nonsense names for disorders, then it's time for medicine to admit that diagnostic tests are sometimes inadequate or fallible, that the doctor's training sometimes leaves them operating on guesswork alone.[3]

Don't forget your right to choose or to seek out information. No one physician, no matter how experienced, has all the answers, and even they know that, too.


[1] Olejarczyk JP, Young M. Patient Rights And Ethics. [Updated 2021 Dec 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
[2] Dandaraw-Seritt, B. (2022, January 26). How doctors with a 'god complex' contribute to medical gaslighting. The Mighty. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from
[3] William, A. (2021). Addicted to Answers. In Medical medium (pp. 28–29). essay, Hay House Inc. Videos
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