Four reasons why too many informed consents to clinical research are invalid: a critical analysis of current practices

Four reasons why too many informed consents to clinical research are invalid: a critical analysis of current practices
Anne Wisgalla, Joerg Hasford
BMJ Open – Ethics, 4 March 2022
Open Access
Informed consent (IC) is a central ethical and legal requirement for clinical research that aims to protect the autonomy of participants. To enable an autonomous decision and valid consent, adequate understanding must be ensured. However, a considerable proportion of participants do not understand the relevant aspects about participation in research, for example, approximately 45% could not name at least one risk. As such, the inadequate understanding of IC has been known for several decades, and it still constitutes a severe problem for the ethical conduct of research. Through delineating the most pressing deficits of current IC procedures that lead to insufficient understanding, we aim to encourage the discussion among stakeholders, for example, clinical researchers, and to provide the grounds for practical solutions.
Main arguments
(1) IC documents are too long to be read completely, thus, make it very difficult for potential participants to identify the material facts about the trial. (2) The low readability of the IC documents disadvantages persons with limited literacy. (3) The therapeutic misconception frequently prevents participants to realise that the primary purpose of clinical research is to benefit future patients. (4) Excessive risk disclosures, insufficient information about expected benefits and framing effects compromise a rational risk/benefit assessment.
Due to these deficits, practices of IC in clinical research too often preclude adequate understanding of prospective participants, thus, invalidating IC. The gap between the well-specified ethical norm to enable IC and its insufficient translation into practice can no longer be accepted, as participant rights and the public trust in responsible research are at stake. Hence, immediate action is needed to address the prevailing deficits.

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