Publications of Emma C. Bullock

Knowing and Not-knowing for your own good: The Limits of Epistemic Paternalism

Epistemic paternalism is the thesis that a paternalistic interference with an individual’s inquiry is justified when it is likely to bring about an epistemic improvement in her. In this paper I claim that in order to motivate epistemic paternalism we must first account for the value of epistemic improvements. I propose that the epistemic paternalist has two options: either epistemic improvements are valuable because they contribute to wellbeing, or they are epistemically valuable. I will argue that these options constitute the foundations of a dilemma: either epistemic paternalism collapses into general paternalism, or a distinctive project of justified epistemic paternalism is implausible.

Mandatory Disclosure and Medical Paternalism

Medical practitioners are duty-bound to tell their patients the truth about their medical conditions, along with the risks and benefits of proposed treatments. Some patients, however, would rather not receive medical information. A recent response to this tension has been to argue that that the disclosure of medical information is not optional. As such, patients do not have permission to refuse medical information. In this paper I argue that, depending on the context, the disclosure of medical information can undermine the patient’s ability to exercise her autonomy or have therapeutically detrimental effects. In the light of these insights I go on to develop a context-sensitive approach to medical disclosure. The advantage of this account is that it addresses concerns on both sides of the debate; whilst it acknowledges that patients do not have an exercisable ‘right not to know,’ it allows that in some cases medical information ought to be withheld.

Bullock EC. Assisted Dying and the Proper Role of Patient Autonomy. In: Cholbi M, Varelius J, editors. New Directions in the Ethics of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Vol 64. Springer International; 2015. p. 11-25. (International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine; vol 64).

Assisted Dying and the Proper Role of Patient Autonomy

A governing principle in medical ethics is respect for patient autonomy. This principle is commonly drawn upon in order to argue for the permissibility of assisted dying. In this paper I explore the proper role that respect for patient autonomy should play in this context. I argue that the role of autonomy is not to identify a patient’s best interests, but instead to act as a side-constraint on action. The surprising conclusion of the paper is that whether or not it is in the best interests for the patient to die is a morally objective matter. This allows for the possibility that it can be in the best interests of the patient to die even if she autonomously considers it to be in her best interest to continue living. I argue that concerns about ‘mandatory’ euthanasia can be met when patient autonomy is respected as a side-constraint on action. Ultimately, this means that assisted dying is permissible, not because the autonomous patient views her suffering to be unbearable, but because it is in her objective best interests and she permitted it via her consent.

Bullock EC, Widdows H. Reconsidering Consent and Biobanking. Biobanks and Tissue Research The International Library of Ethics, Law and Technology. 2011;8:111-25.