Lost in ‘Culturation’: medical informed consent in China

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 22 (1):17-30 (2019)
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Although Chinese law imposes informed consent for medical treatments, the Chinese understanding of this requirement is very different from the European one, mostly due to the influence of Confucianism. Chinese doctors and relatives are primarily interested in protecting the patient, even from the truth; thus, patients are commonly uninformed of their medical conditions, often at the family’s request. The family plays an important role in health care decisions, even substituting their decisions for the patient’s. Accordingly, instead of personal informed consent, what actually exists is ‘family informed consent’. From a Western perspective, these features of Chinese law and Chinese culture might seem strange, contradicting our understanding of doctor-patient relationship and even the very essence of self-determination and fundamental rights. However, we cannot forget the huge influence of cultural factors in these domains, and that ‘Western’ informed consent is grounded on the individualistic nature of Western culture. This article will underline the differences between the Western and the Chinese perspectives, clarifying how each of them must be understood in its own cultural environment. But, while still respecting Chinese particularities, this paper advocates that China adopt patient individual informed consent because this is the only solution compatible with human dignity and human rights.



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Vera Lúcia Raposo
University of Coimbra