Exploring the intersection of innovation and autonomy

A/Prof. Bernadette Richards1, Dr Tamra Lysaght

1University Of Adelaide

In our world of continuous technological advancement it is almost inconceivable that we cannot cure every disease and ensure ongoing good health. Over time we have seen repeated examples of medical miracles where the apparently incurable becomes curable and the specter of mortality has retreated. This ongoing development of medical technologies has given rise to a broad and unquestioning acceptance that eventually, all diseases will be treatable. In this climate of enthusiastic embracing of medical advancement it becomes incomprehensible to a patient when they become aware of a potentially new form of treatment but they are denied access on grounds of safety. The current view is that the ‘new’ represents ‘improved’ and to deny access is to undermine basic right to health. It is thus unsurprising that the patient’s right to access or try innovative therapies and treatments is gaining increasing attention from scholars in biomedical ethics, law and clinical medicine. The dialogue around this issue stems from a rights based discourse with advocates of expanded access to treatment emphasising the patient’s right to treatment and therefore good health. Underlying this position is the assumption that all innovative treatment is good treatment and will be effective, thus ignoring the reality of all medical treatment that positive outcomes are not guaranteed. This paper will challenge this view and consider whether or not there is an outer limit to the right to access unproven treatment and therefore, a limit to the exercise of individual autonomy


Bernadette comes from the Law School at the University of Adelaide and researches in the areas of Tort Law, Medical Law, and Bioethics.  She has contributed to texts on medical law and co-authored  a text book on Tort Law.  Bernadette is Chair of a major clinical research ethics committee and is the Associate Editor (Law) of the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry.  She is the Deputy Director, Research Unit for the Study of Society, Law and Religion (RUSSLR) and  President of the AABHL.  Current  projects include, access to innovative treatment, issues around organ donation and medical decision-making through advance care directives.

About the Association

The Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) was formed in 2009.

It encourages open discussion and debate on a range of bioethical issues, providing a place where people can ask difficult questions about ideas and practices associated with health and illness, biomedical research and human values.

The AABHL seeks to foster a distinctive Australasian voice in bioethics, and provide opportunities for international engagement through its membership, journal and conferences.

Members come from all the contributing humanities, social science and science disciplines that make up contemporary bioethics.

Many members have cross-disciplinary interests and all seek to broaden the dialogues in which all members of the wider community ultimately have an interest.

The AABHL is a supportive, creative and challenging community that provides a rich source of continuing academic refreshment and renewal.

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