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Choosing Life, Choosing Death: The Tyranny of Autonomy in Medical Ethics and Law [Paperback]

Charles Foster

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Book Description

March 1, 2009 1841139297 978-1841139296 1
Autonomy is a vital principle in medical law and ethics which occupies a prominent place in all medico-legal and ethical debate. But there is a dangerous presumption that it should have the only vote, or at least the casting vote. This book is an assault on that presumption, and an audit of autonomy's extraordinary status. Choosing Life, Choosing Death surveys the main issues in medical law, noting, in relation to each issue, the power wielded by autonomy, asking whether that power can be justified, and suggesting how other principles can and should contribute to the law. The book's structure is broadly chronological. It starts before birth — with questions relating to reproductive technology and the ownership of gametes — and ends after death — with the issues relating to the ownership of body parts. On the way, it deals with the status of the early embryo and the fetus, the law of abortion, confidentiality, consent, medical litigation, medical research, and end-of-life decision-making. Choosing Life, Choosing Death concludes that autonomy's status cannot be intellectually or ethically justified, and that positive discrimination in favor of the other balancing principles is urgently needed in order to avoid some sinister results. There are few books which take a pro-life and anti-autonomy stance. This is a controversial subject that will provoke debate among scholars, judges, and practitioners. Authored by Charles Foster, a widely respected scholar who has written extensively in this area, Choosing Life, Choosing Death is an engaging, learned, and thought-provoking discussion of the problems central to the courts' approach to ethical issues in medical law.

Editorial Reviews


...written in a very powerful and thought-provoking style and will be an intriguing read for anyone interested in understanding the wide range of concrete cases that Foster considers. ...if read open-mindedly and with a view to understanding the main principles used in biomedical contexts, Foster's book has the potential to make a distinctive contribution to the debate about the role of autonomy...he has undeniably produced a book that will inject some life into the often stale academic debates on the topic. Mirko Daniel Garasic Plurilogue August 2011 ...fresh, clear and eminently readable...This is a short book, passionately argued, which all those interested in medical law, and the rights and duties of patients and doctors, should read. You may disagree: you won't be bored. Bio-Science Law Review Vol 10, Issue 3, 2009 This is certainly a useful book for people wishing to understand some of the legal background in key areas of medical is also worthy of consideration in its own right by anyone seeking an alternative perspective on autonomy in health care ethics. Vincent Mitchell Nursing Ethics 16 (6), 2009 This book provides an accessible critique of the principle of 'autonomy' in the context of medical law. As a lawyer himself, Charles Foster succinctly summarises the various legal issues arising, as the title suggests, from conception to death. Antony Blackburn-Starza BioNews Newsletter 5th January 2010 This book is an important challenge to the dominance of autonomy in medical ethics and law ... [it] will ... be a useful and thought-provoking resource for those studying or teaching medical law and ethics. Mark Campbell Triple Helix Easter 2010 This is an important addition to the ongoing ethical, as well as medico-legal debate regarding autonomy. Foster's work provides an excellent point of departure for those new to the area, as well as a rich source of reference material for subsequent investigations. Doug Morrison Medical Law Review June 2010 Are you a hirsute medical lawyer, with a low blood pressure and writer's block? Then this is the book for you. You will not have to read too many pages before your blood will be boiling, you will be pulling out your hair, and grabbing your keyboard to type a furious riposte. .. This book is a powerful challenge to the role that autonomy plays in medical law and ethics. The book demonstrates a wide-ranging understanding of the law. Few authors could hope to make as many sharp points as Foster does in such a short space of time. This must be the most fast-paced and easy-to-read book on the topic. For that reason it may well be of interest to students and no doubt lecturers will enjoy setting their chapters for students to read in order to provoke a response. Therein lies the strength of this book. It is a book that demands a reaction. Jonathan Herring Legal Studies Volume 30, No 2 Charles Foster's book provides a welcome addition to the literature by confronting some of these premises in the context of English medical law. Katri Lõhmus Social and Legal Studies 19 (3) 2010 Charles Foster minces no words. Choosing Life, Choosing Death is a comprehensive and passionately argued attack against the "tyranny of autonomy" in medical ethics and law. Katharina Heyer The Journal of Law and Society Volume 45, Issue 1

About the Author

Charles Foster is a Barrister at Outer Temple Chambers, London, and teaches medical law and ethics at the University of Oxford. He is the author, editor or a contributor to many books and hundreds of other publications:

Product Details

More About the Author

I'm a writer based in Oxford, UK. I teach at the University of Oxford, and am a Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford. Most of my books, in some way or other, are presumptuous and more or less unsuccessful attempts to work out what we are doing on this extraordinary planet. Those attempts have generated books on evolutionary biology, the physiology of spiritual experience, pilgrimage, Biblical archaeology, theology and ethics, as well as travel books.

I travel a lot, and have bled and left digits behind in some very unpleasant places. I'm a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and have a particular passion for camel expeditions.

I have a very long-suffering wife, Mary, and five wondrous, wild children: Lizzie, Sally, Tom, James and Rachel.

My website is It would be great if you could drop by there. If you'd like to email me to tell me how badly I've got things wrong in my books, I'm at

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