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J Med Ethics 28:313-317 doi:10.1136/jme.28.5.313
  • Research ethics

Why we should not seek individual informed consent for participation in health services research

  1. J Cassell1,
  2. A Young2
  1. 1Department of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, UK
  2. 2School of Social Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J Cassell, Wellcome Health Services Research Training Fellow, Department of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Royal Free and University College Medical School, Mortimer Market Centre, Off Capper St, London WC1E 6AU;
 jcassell{at}gum.ucl.ac.uk
  • Accepted 21 June 2002
  • Revised 16 June 2002

Abstract

Ethics committees now require that individuals give informed consent to much health services research, in the same way as for clinical research. This is misguided. Existing ethical guidelines do not help us decide how to seek consent in these cases, and have allowed managerial experimentation to remain largely unchecked. Inappropriate requirements for individual consent can institutionalise health inequalities and reduce access to services for vulnerable groups. This undermines the fundamental purpose of the National Health Service (NHS), and ignores our rights and duties as its members, explored here. Alternative forms of community consent should be actively pursued.

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