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O'Neill, Onora, and . Some limits of informed consent

2003, Journal of Medical Ethics 29 (1):4-7

Abstract: Many accounts of informed consent in medical ethics claim that it is valuable because it supports individual autonomy. Unfortunately there are many distinct conceptions of individual autonomy, and their ethical importance varies. A better reason for taking informed consent seriously is that it provides assurance that patients and others are neither deceived nor coerced. Present debates about the relative importance of generic and specific consent (particularly in the use of human tissues for research and in secondary studies) do not address this issue squarely. Consent is a propositional attitude, so intransitive: complete, wholly specific consent is an illusion. Since the point of consent procedures is to limit deception and coercion, they should be designed to give patients and others control over the amount of information they receive and opportunity to rescind consent already given.

Comment: A great introductory text offering a short overview of the problems related to consent. The point regarding the intransitivity of consent is likely to inspire interesting discussions. As the paper is quite short, it can easily be used in conjunction with other texts.