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The concise argument: the importance of consent and choice
  1. John McMillan, Editor in Chief
  1. Bioethics Centre, University of Otago, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Professor John McMillan; john.r.mcmillan68{at}gmail.com

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When Beauchamp and Childress articulated the necessary and sufficient conditions for informed consent, they might have thought that would be the final word on what informed consent is.1 It’s emphasis in the Belmont Report,2 the Nuremberg Code,3 the Helsinki Declaration4 and numerous codes of professional ethics seems more than sufficient for emphasising its importance. Nonetheless, its place as the central issue for medical ethics appears undiminished and Pubmed lists 6192 publications with ‘Informed Consent’ in the title since 1979.

One view of this is that medical ethics has channelled too much intellectual effort into consent, perhaps at the expense of other important ethical issues. Papers in this issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics suggest that the discussion of consent continues because of the need to consider what it means in new contexts, how it can be a challenge in some contexts, how it is related to tough theoretical issues about the value of choice and autonomy and how it can blend into other debates.

The development of biobanking and the challenges it presents about which variant of consent should apply have been discussed in the JME before. One option is for consent to be ‘broad’, meaning that when consent is given for the collection of tissue the ‘type’ of future secondary uses are specified but not the specific research studies, on the basis that the potential benefits are significant, the risks low and the costs of gaining consent for every use of tissue significant. Hofmann has argued against broad consent on the basis that being ‘informed’ is a crucial aspect of …

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