Authority and the Future of Consent in Population-Level Biomedical Research

Public Health Ethics (forthcoming)
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Population-level biomedical research has become crucial to the health system’s ability to improve the health of the population. This form of research raises a number of well-documented ethical concerns, perhaps the most significant of which is the inability of the researcher to obtain fully informed specific consent from participants. Two proposed technical solutions to this problem of consent in large-scale biomedical research that have become increasingly popular are meta-consent and dynamic consent. We critically examine the ethical and practical credentials of these proposals and find them lacking. We suggest that the consent problem is not solved by adopting a technology driven approach grounded in a notion of ‘specific’ consent but by taking seriously the role of research governance in combination with broader conceptions of consent. In our view, these approaches misconstrue the rightful location of authority in the way in which population-level biomedical research activities are structured and organized. We conclude by showing how and why the authority for determining the nature and shape of choice making about participation ought not to lie with individual participants, but rather with the researchers and the research governance process, and that this necessarily leads to the endorsement of a fully articulated broad consent approach.



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