Informed Consent, Therapeutic Misconception, and Unrealistic Optimism

Informed Consent, Therapeutic Misconception, and Unrealistic Optimism
Lynn A. Jansen
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Spring 2020; 63 (2) pp 359-373
The Belmont Report attested to the cardinal importance of informed consent for ethical research on human subjects. Important challenges to securing informed consent have emerged since its publication more than 40 years ago. Among some of the most significant of these challenges are those that highlight social psychological factors that have the potential to impair the appreciation of relevant information disclosed in the informed consent process. Responding to these challenges requires us to think harder about the content of the principle of informed consent and the demands that it imposes on investigators. This article focuses on two challenges in particular, that presented by the so-called therapeutic misconception, and that presented by the psychological bias of unrealistic optimism. After outlining an account of the principle of informed consent as it applies to the research context, the article briefly reviews the empirical literature on the therapeutic misconception and the bias of unrealistic optimism. It then relates these phenomena to the principle of informed consent, paying special attention to the ethical demands they impose on investigators. The article concludes by considering how recent trends to integrate research and clinical care affect the main points it has advanced.

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