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Bioethics. 2016 Feb;30(2):69-76. doi: 10.1111/bioe.12228.

No Understanding, No Consent: The Case Against Alternative Medicine.

Abstract

The demand for informed consent in clinical medicine is usually justified on the basis that it promotes patient autonomy. In this article I argue that the most effective way to promote autonomy is to improve patient understanding in order to reduce the epistemic disparity between patient and medical professional. Informed consent therefore derives its moral value from its capacity to reduce inequalities of power as they derive from epistemic inequalities. So in order for a patient to have given informed consent, she must understand the treatment. I take this to mean that she has sufficient knowledge of its causal mechanisms and has accepted the explanations in which the treatment is implicated. If this interpretation of informed consent is correct, it is unethical for medical professionals to offer or endorse 'alternative medicine' treatments, for which there is no known causal mechanism, for if they do, they may end up widening the epistemic disparity. In this way, informed consent may be understood as an effective way of ruling out particular treatments in order to improve patient autonomy and maintain trust in the medical profession.

KEYWORDS:

alternative medicine; epistemology; informed consent

PMID:
26806449
DOI:
10.1111/bioe.12228
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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