The Supreme Court does not use the phrase “personal autonomy” very often. Unlike privacy, it is not a fundamental right. As such, it is still a very limited concept regarding its impact on legal jurisprudence.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Court emphasized the impact that Roe v. Wade (1973) had on the importance of personal autonomy, especially with regard to reproductive rights. The Casey Court wrote, “[I]f Roe is seen as stating a rule of personal autonomy . . . [then the Supreme Court’s] post-Roe decisions accord with Roe’s view that a State’s interest in the protection of life falls short of justifying any plenary override of individual liberty claims . . . “[N]o erosion of principle going to liberty or personal autonomy has left Roe’s central holding a doctrinal remnant.”
In Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) however, the Court appeared to oppose the concept that personal autonomy creates personal protections for individuals. “And although Casey recognized that many of the rights and liberties protected by the Due Process Clause sound in personal autonomy, it does not follow that any and all important, intimate, and personal decisions are so protected. Casey did not suggest otherwise.”
Evidently, the significance of a right to personal autonomy is far from certain.
For more on personal autonomy, see Part IV of this John Marshall Law Review article. See also this Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository article.