Bioethics Blogs

Bioethics Commission Recommends Engaging Stakeholders to Address Stigma Associated with Impaired Consent Capacity

In Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 2), the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) explored capacity and the consent process as one of three topics that illustrate some of the ethical and societal tensions that surround rapidly advancing neuroscience research and its applications. When considering and addressing ethical concerns about consent capacity, it is crucial to avoid policies and practices that perpetuate or exacerbate stigma. Equating certain conditions with impaired consent capacity or making unfounded assumptions about individual abilities based on diagnoses can subject individuals to stigmatizing or discriminatory practices, undermining the respect due to those individuals. The Bioethics Commission recognized that one important approach to help neuroscience researchers alleviate stigma is stakeholder engagement, and recommended engaging stakeholders to address stigma associated with impaired consent capacity:

Funders and researchers should engage stakeholders, including members of affected communities, to build understanding of consent capacity and associated diagnoses to mitigate the potential for stigma and discrimination.

Stakeholder engagement can inform research design, including by identifying what to study, improving informed consent processes, and assessing how results might be received and analyzed. It is also an important mechanism to mitigate potential social harms associated with research participation and to cultivate trust among researchers and affected populations. Stakeholder engagement processes are particularly important for research that involves underrepresented and potentially stigmatized groups. Seeking the perspectives of those with, or at risk for, disorders or conditions associated with impaired consent capacity, caregivers, researchers, and community members affected by research can help alleviate stigma and discrimination by providing information about the lived experience of those affected by particular disorders or conditions, and dispelling common assumptions about those disorders or conditions.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.