Tuesday 20th Sept. 2022 12:15 - 1:15 pm Unpacking Bedside Bioethics

The True Role of Autonomy in Medicine

Headshot of Joel Wu
Joel Wu, JD, MPH, MA, HEC-C


Respect for patient autonomy is not as simple as doing what patients say they want. As clinicians, we also have an obligation to use our skill for the benefit of patients, to not cause harm, & to care for all of our patients in ways that are consistent with the interests of everyone in the community. Balancing these moral commitments is an important part of ethical practice, and an important part of balancing these commitments is a practical understanding of what we mean by autonomy. This session reviews the origins, meaning, & limitations of the concept of autonomy, & provides practical guidance for how to resolve potential conflicts between patient autonomy & other moral commitments.

Objectives: By completion of this activity, learners will:

  1. Be able to articulate a definition of patient autonomy
  2. Understand boundaries of the duty to respect patient autonomy
  3. Be able to identify & describe conflicts between respect for patient autonomy & other moral commitments, & when external review & support may be helpful.


Joel Wu, JD, MPH, MA, HEC-C | Joel Wu is a Center for Bioethics’ Clinical Ethics Assistant Professor and a Senior Lecturer in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. Wu’s primary role is as a clinical ethicist for the MHealth Fairview and the University of Minnesota Medical Center (UMMC), where he provides clinical ethics consultation. He is a Co-Chair of the UMMC Ethics Committee, Ethics Lead for MHealth Fairview, and member of the MHealth Fairview Ethics Council. Wu also teaches courses at the intersection of clinical ethics, public health ethics, and public health law.