By Henry S. Richardson
Oxford University Press Blog
Originally published October 27, 2013
A huge amount of ethical angst swirls around the topic of informed consent. Can lay people who are considering signing up as subjects in a medical study really be made to understand the risks they are facing? Can information about these risks be communicated across cultural and educational gulfs? What degree of informed understanding should we expect subjects to have, anyway?
Underlying the process of informed consent, though, is a simpler and more fundamental issue. The one-sided focus of the medical-research ethics establishment on preventing harms and abuses has obscured this core function from view. We need to remember why consent is needed for participation in medical research in the first place. It is needed because the researchers need the subjects’ permission to do things that otherwise would be wrong to do. It is wrong to examine and touch people’s naked bodies in the ways researchers need to do, to collect samples of their blood, urine, and feces, and to collect detailed information on their medical histories without getting their permission.
The entire story is here.