Assent and vulnerability in patients who lack capacity

Assent and vulnerability in patients who lack capacity
Christopher A Riddle
Journal of Medical Ethics, 17 April 2023
Smajdor’s Reification and Assent in Research Involving Those Who lack Capacity claims, among other things, that ‘adults who cannot give informed consent may nevertheless have the ability to assent and dissent, and that these capacities are morally important in the context of research’. More pointedly, she suggests we can rely upon Gillick competence, or that ‘it is worth thinking about why the same trajectory [as children] has not been evident in the context of [adults with impairments of capacity to give informed consent (AWIC)]’. I argue that her likening assent in AWIC to assent in children is problematic for at least two related reasons. First, direct comparisons between AWIC and children run the risk of perpetuating or reinforcing infantilising stereotypes against people with disabilities. Second, I argue that people with disabilities are vulnerable in ways that most children are not, and thus, are dissimilar in a morally relevant manner…

Editor’s note: The article which is referenced in this commentary was featured in the February edition of this digest.

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