Individual Autonomy and the Double-Blind Controlled Experiment: The Case of Desperate Volunteers

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 20 (1):43-55 (1995)
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This essay explores some concerns about the quality of informed consent in patients whose autonomy is diminished by fatal illness. It argues that patients with diminished autonomy cannot give free and voluntary consent, and that recruitment of such patients as subjects in human experimentation exploits their vulnerability in a morally objectionable way. Two options are given to overcome this objection: (i) recruit only those patients who desire to contribute to medical knowledge, rather than gain access to experimental treatment, or (ii) provide prospective subjects the choice to participate in standard doubleblind study or receive the experimental treatment. Either option would guarantee that patients in desperate conditions are given a more meaningful choice and a richer freedom, and thus a higher quality of informed consent, than under standard randomized trials



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