The Ethics of Information: Absolute Risk Reduction and Patient Understanding of Screening

Journal of General Internal Medicine 23 (6):867-870 (2008)
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Abstract

Some experts have argued that patients should routinely be told the specific magnitude and absolute probability of potential risks and benefits of screening tests. This position is motivated by the idea that framing risk information in ways that are less precise violates the ethical principle of respect for autonomy and its application in informed consent or shared decisionmaking. In this Perspective, we consider a number of problems with this view that have not been adequately addressed. The most important challenges stem from the danger that patients will misunderstand the information or have irrational responses to it. Any initiative in this area should take such factors into account and should consider carefully how to apply the ethical principles of respect for autonomy and beneficence.

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Peter H. Schwartz
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis

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