In Defence of informed consent for health record research – why arguments from ‘easy rescue’, ‘no harm’ and ‘consent bias’ fail

In Defence of informed consent for health record research – why arguments from ‘easy rescue’, ‘no harm’ and ‘consent bias’ fail
Thomas Ploug
BMC Medical Ethics, 20 August 2020; 21(75)
Open Access
Abstract
Background
Health data holds great potential for improved treatments. Big data research and machine learning models have been shown to hold great promise for improved diagnostics and treatment planning. The potential is tied, however, to the availability of personal health data. In recent years, it has been argued that data from health records should be available for health research, and that individuals have a duty to make the data available for such research. A central point of debate is whether such secondary use of health data requires informed consent.
Main body
In response to recent writings this paper argues that a requirement of informed consent for health record research must be upheld. It does so by exploring different contrasting notions of the duty of easy rescue and arguing that none of them entail a perfect duty to participate in health record research. In part because the costs of participation cannot be limited to 1) the threat of privacy breaches, but includes 2) the risk of reduced trust and 3) suboptimal treatment, 4) stigmatization and 5) medicalisation, 6) further stratification of solidarity and 7) increased inequality in access to treatment and medicine. And finally, it defends the requirement of informed consent by arguing that the mere possibility of consent bias provides a rather weak reason for making research participation mandatory, and that there are strong, independent reasons for making.
Conclusion
Arguments from the duty of easy rescue in combination with claims about little risk of harm and potential consent bias fail to establish not only a perfect duty to participate in health record research, but also that participation in such research should be mandatory. On the contrary, an analysis of these arguments indicates that the duty to participate in research is most adequately construed as an imperfect duty, and reveals a number of strong reasons for insisting that participation in health records research is based on informed consent.

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