Autonomy: respecting another person’s right to make decisions about their own life

Self-Neglect is complicated because of two ethical issues:

  • Autonomy,  and
  • Beneficence.


Autonomy is the right a person of sound mind to make their own life choices. This is true even if the choices are not in the best interest of the person (Pozgar, 2016).When an individual of sound mind chooses to neglect their personal health and/or safety, it is an example of intentional self-neglect. Individuals are ethically and legally allowed to neglect themselves if they are of sound mind (see Competency).


shutterstock_53816173Beneficence is doing good for the benefit of others. It includes actions taken to prevent or remove harm as well as to improve the situation of others. For example, healthcare providers are expected to not cause harm, but they also have an obligation to help their patients ( Pozgar, 2016; University of San Francisco, School of Medicine, 2008).

In self-neglect, concept of beneficence is most commonly used when treating someone is unable to make their own medical decisions. This may happen if a judge has determined that the individual is incompetent or a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare has been activated.


Pozgar, G. D. (2016). Legal and ethical issues for health professionals (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning

University of San Francisco, School of Medicine. (2008). Beneficence vs. nonmaleficence. Retrieved from

Last updated: June 7, 2020 at 16:38 pm by
I. M. Abumaria, Doctor of Nursing Practice
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