Contributory factors to the evolution of the concept and practice of informed consent in clinical research: A narrative review
Lydia O’Sullivan, Rachel Crowley, Éilish McAuliffe, Peter Doran
Contemporary Clinical Trials Communications, 13 August 2020
Informed consent can be defined as a freely-given decision or agreement following disclosure of relevant information. This review explores how legislation surrounding informed consent has impacted upon clinical research practices, with a focus on clinical trials involving individuals with the capacity to give consent in the non-emergency setting. We also highlight the challenges which remain with the informed consent process, including those which exist in the era of data protection legislation and genetic research.
Modern ethicists agree that informed consent encompasses three principal factors: disclosure of information, capacity for decision making, and voluntariness. In the context of clinical research, informed consent is now required by regulatory and ethical frameworks as well as by law, and various guidelines govern the practice of informed consent, including the Declaration of Helsinki and the Good Clinical Practice Guidelines. Historically, however, researchers acted paternalistically and, included participants in research without their knowledge or consent. Following societal and political revolution, an autonomy model of consent became prevalent, and individuals become free to make individual choices about whether to participate. Despite this, it is also recognized that an individual’s community has a role in supporting their decision making, and this may be a strong influence, particularly within some societies. Research scandals and controversies and whistle-blowers which exposed unethical practices in the area of informed consent also contributed to changes in societal attitudes and legislation changed as a result. Medical journals also have an established, although indirect, role in strengthening good practices surrounding informed consent.