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To see for myself: informed consent and the culture of openness
  1. T Walter
  1. Professor T Walter, Department of Social & Policy Sciences, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK;{at}


Informed consent needs to be practised within a culture of openness if it is to enhance public trust in medical procedures around death. Openness should entail patients not just receiving information from doctors, but also having the right to see certain medical procedures. This article proposes in particular that it would be desirable for the public to be allowed to attend an autopsy of a person they do not know. Evidence from the UK, where members of the public may go backstage to witness the process of cremation, the other technical process in which dead bodies are violently but legitimately assaulted, suggests benefits from a policy of openness. When a family consents to cremation in Britain, their consent is only minimally informed, but the system has nothing to hide, and trust is high. This suggests that the opportunity for lay people also to witness certain medical procedures might do more to restore public trust in medical procedures around death than a narrow interpretation of informed consent in which information is controlled by the profession.

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  • Competing interests: None declared.