Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jean Symonds

Second Committee Member

Jeffrey Hecker

Third Committee Member

Philip Keane


The purpose of this investigation was to expand the understanding of ethical decision-making by contributing women’s experiences and thoughts to the issue. Fifty women shared a decision that they had made or were in the process of making having to do with their health or reproductive life. The research method of phenomenology was used with the women in the semi-structured interviews in an attempt to capture the meaning that they gave both to what they paid attention to and to the process that they used in arriving at their decisions. After researchers gained as clear a rendering as possible of the ethical situations from the participants’ perspectives, an attempt was made to propose theory emerging from that understanding. Feminine and feminist theories and thinking rooted in the Roman Catholic tradition were used as lenses to help shed light on the data grounded in the women’s experiences. Member check, peer debriefing and a confirmability audit were all used to insure the trustworthiness of the research. The core process of relational autonomy was found to be descriptive of how the women made their decisions. Several findings supported this conclusion: All of the women in this study presented themselves as aware of their interconnection with others. Each made her decision by attempting to respond to the specific needs that surfaced in her particular dilemma. At the same time, half of the women specifically identified self-care as one of their major concerns in making their decisions. Though their choices were reflective of moral principles and the values underlying their religious traditions, none of the women looked to traditional ethical principles or religious directives for guidance in making their decisions. Finally, the majority of women consciously protected their power to decide for themselves. Looked at as a whole, the women in this study value autonomy in their decision-making but view it differently than how it is presented in traditional ethics. While protecting their decision-making power, they make their decisions aware of themselves as interconnected persons and in consideration of the effects that their decisions have on others.