To Consent or Not to Consent to Screening, That Is the Question

To Consent or Not to Consent to Screening, That Is the Question
Bjørn Hofmann
Healthcare, 30 March 2023
The objective of this article is to address the controversial question of whether consent is relevant for persons invited to participate in screening programs. To do so, it starts by presenting a case where the provided information historically has not been sufficient for obtaining valid informed consent for screening. Then, the article investigates some of the most relevant biases that cast doubt on the potential for satisfying standard criteria for informed consent. This may indicate that both in theory and in practice, it can be difficult to obtain valid consent for screening programs. Such an inference is profoundly worrisome, as invitees to screening programs are healthy individuals most suited to make autonomous decisions. Thus, if consent is not relevant for screening, it may not be relevant for a wide range of other health services. As such, the lack of valid consent in screening raises the question of the relevance of one of the basic ethical principles in healthcare (respect for autonomy), one of the most prominent legal norms in health legislation (informed consent), and one of the most basic tenets of liberal democracies (individual autonomy). Thus, there are good reasons to provide open, transparent, and balanced information and minimize biases in order to ascertain informed consent in screening.

Editor’s note: This article belongs to the Special Issue The Rationalities of Medical Screening.

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