The Social Dimension of Informed Consent Procedure in Bioethics: A Kantian Interpretation
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This thesis argues, along the line proposed by Neil Manson and Onora O’Neill in their book Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics, for what may be called a “paradigm shift” wherein informed consent is conceived as a “waiver” of certain fundamental rights and their correlative obligations, and as a “speech act” that can only be meaningful against the background of these rights and obligations. I believe this new way of looking at informed consent can help us to better address ethical challenges recently raised by the establishment of large or even national human genetic biobanks, and by secondary research uses of left-over biological samples. I will begin, in Chapter 1, with a critical examination of the so-called “principle of respect for autonomy,” which Tom Beauchamp and James Childress hold to provide the “primary justification” of informed consent; and I will argue for the need to reconceive informed consent in a way which severs it from personal autonomy as its justification—a way which is exactly what Manson and O’Neill propose. In Chapter 2, I will look into the moral foundation of this new conception and hold that Kant’s Formula of Humanity can serve as such a foundation. Finally, with a fuller picture of Manson and O’Neill’s conception at hand, I will suggest, in Chapter 3, how the above-mentioned challenges can be met in ways that are more reasonable than those which bioethicists like Beauchamp and Childress could offer.