Feminist ethics and menopause: Autonomy and decision-making in primary medical care
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AbstractThe construction of menopause as a long-term risk to health and the adoption of discourses of prevention has made necessary a decision by women about medical treatment; specifically regarding the use of hormone replacement therapy. In a study of general practitioners’ accounts of menopause and treatment in Australia, women's ‘choice’, ‘informed decision-making’ and ‘empowerment’ were key themes through which primary medical care for women at menopause was presented. These accounts create a position for women defined by the concept of individual choice and an ethic of autonomy. These data are a basis for theorising more generally in this paper. We critically examine the construct of ‘informed decision-making’ in relation to several approaches to ethics including bioethics and a range of feminist ethics. We identify the intensification of power relations produced by an ethic of autonomy and discuss the ways these considerations inform a feminist ethics of decision-making by women. We argue that an ‘ethic of autonomy’ and an ‘offer of choice’ in relation to health care for women at menopause, far from being emancipatory, serves to intensify power relations. The dichotomy of choice, to take or not to take hormone replacement therapy, is required to be a choice and is embedded in relations of power and bioethical discourse that construct meanings about what constitutes decision-making at menopause. The deployment of the principle of autonomy in medical practice limits decision-making by women precisely because it is detached from the construction of meaning and the self and makes invisible the relations of power of which it is a part.