Informed Consent

Reed, John Shelton
November 1989
Society;Nov/Dec89, Vol. 27 Issue 1, p25
Academic Journal
This article discusses the need for informed consent in addressing environmental risk and safety. People should not be exposed to danger without their knowledge or against their will. The state is increasingly protecting Americans, not just from others' malice, negligence, or incompetence, but from the consequences of their own choices, usually by denying them choice. An example is given to illustrate where to draw the line between protecting individuals and nurturing adaptive and innovative risk-taking. Here is an enterprise that exposes thousands of individuals daily to risk. Since it is too beneficial to forbid, it is allowed to continue, as long as it meets the requirements of informed consent. This means that people exposed to the risks inherent in experimentation must understand the nature of the trade-off, the risks and benefits of generally accepted practice, as well as those of the experimental treatment. Those people who are prejudiced in favor of freedom and decentralization might urge that this doctrine be extended beyond experimental situations and that it incorporate the principle of informed choice. Scientific standards should not be compromised; it is wrong to say or imply that scientifically reliable information exists about a product when this is not the case. The authority of science should be reduced. The absence of scientifically reliable information should not always be determinative.


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