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The Gettier Problem in informed consent
  1. Shlomo Cohen
  1. Correspondence to Shlomo Cohen, Department of Philosophy, Hebrew University, Mt Scopus, 91905 Jerusalem, Israel; shlomco{at}


The duty to procure informed consent (IC) from patients before any significant intervention is among the pillars of medical and research ethics. The provision by the doctor of relevant information about treatment and free decision-making by the patient are essential elements of IC. The paper presents cases of IC where the free decision about treatment is not causally related to the information provided, and claims that such cases pose a difficulty parallel to that presented by the Gettier Problem in epistemology. In analogy to the original problem with the concept of knowledge, these Gettier-type cases show an indeterminacy in the concept of IC: we either need to add some explicit additional condition of causal connection between information and consent, or else we should understand the concept in a new way—specifically, since the practice of autonomy necessarily involves some consideration of the relevant information, we must understand free consent in a way that no longer refers to patient autonomy.

  • Informed consent
  • autonomy
  • the Gettier-problem

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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