Beliefs, Hopes, and Deal Breakers in Research Consent: Dissecting Mathews, Fins, and Racine on the Therapeutic Misconception

Abstract

In an earlier Dissecting Bioethics contribution, Debra J. H. Mathews, Joseph J. Fins, and Eric Racine challenge standard ways of thinking about the therapeutic misconception in the context of consent for research participation. They propose that instead of demanding “rational congruence” between how researchers and participants conceive of a given protocol, we should accept a less stringent standard of “reasonable coherence.” While Mathews, Fins, and Racine (MFR) provide some important insights, their proposal needs refinement. There is room for a wide but not unlimited range of participant hopes and motivations. However, their model of reasonable coherence is too weak a standard for whether participants have adequate understanding of the scientific goals of a protocol. By the time participants are recruited for medical research, the goals of the protocol, having been set and agreed to through accepted scientific processes, are no longer open for alternate interpretations. This paper discusses this and other objections to MFR’s proposal. It then suggests that a concept of “deal breakers” might be useful in this context.

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Kenneth A. Richman
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

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