Power of Attorney for Research: The Need for a Clear Legal Mechanism

Public Health Ethics 10 (1) (2017)
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A recent article in this journal described practical and conceptual difficulties faced by public health researchers studying scabies outbreaks in British residential care facilities. Their study population was elderly, decisionally incapacitated residents, many of whom lacked a legally appropriate decision-maker for healthcare decisions. The researchers reported difficulties securing Research Ethics Committee approval. As practicing healthcare ethicists working in a large Canadian research hospital, we are familiar with this challenge and welcomed the authors’ invitation to join the discussion of the ‘outstanding ambiguities and further questions’ that their experience uncovered. We propose a Power of Attorney for Research as one substantive solution to help address the problems they identified. Although we acknowledge the familiar shortcomings associated with Advance Directives in the clinical context, we believe that Powers of Attorney for Research Participation, accompanied by Advance Research Directives, may increase the likelihood of gaining deeper understandings of potential participant’s values and priorities and how they might apply to foreseeable research opportunities.



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