A discourse-theoretic perspective on the bioethical-legal framework of genetic counseling

Patricia Gail Bray McVey, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The reflexive nature of reason and the unique relationship reason shares with autonomy in Kant's philosophy is the theoretical basis of this dissertation. The principle of respect for autonomy undergirds the two main legal and ethical tenets of genetic counseling, an emerging profession trying to accommodate the sweeping changes that have occurred in clinical genetics, clinical ethics, and case law applicable to medicine. These two tenets of the counseling profession, informed consent and nondirectiveness, both share a principlist interpretation of autonomy that I argue is flawed due to its connection to: instrumental forms of reasoning, empirical theories of action supporting rational choice, and a liberal paradigm of law. I offer an alternative bioethical-legal framework that is based in the Kantian tradition in law and ethics through the complex theories of Jurgen Habermas. Following Habermas's reconstruction of the mutually constituting notions of private and public autonomy, I will argue for a richer conceptualization of autonomy that can have significant implications for the legal and bioethical concepts supporting the profession of genetic counseling, and which can ultimately change counseling practice.

Subject Area

Public health|Law

Recommended Citation

McVey, Patricia Gail Bray, "A discourse-theoretic perspective on the bioethical-legal framework of genetic counseling" (1996). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9736142.