The Role and Responsibilities of Witnesses in the Informed Consent Process
Angeles-Llerenas, Angélica R
Lara-Alvarez, César Francisco
Developing World Bioethics 2009 April; 9(1): 18-25
Various mechanisms to ensure the protection of subjects in human research have been suggested, including the presence of witnesses during the informed consent process. For our commentary on the use of witnesses and their potential role and responsibility during the consent process, we start by addressing current guidelines for human subjects research in four Latin American countries. By using examples from public health research, we highlight some of the practical difficulties of using witnessed consent, from becoming a meaningless ritual at one end of the spectrum to the research subject feeling intimidated or coerced to participate at the other. Apart from these practical difficulties, it is unclear what responsibility the witness could and should have. We argue that there are important ethical questions about the role of witnesses that have not been adequately addressed in national and international regulations. This work addresses these gaps and argues that more debate is required to define the role and responsibilities of witnesses in the consent process, their training requirements and whether a universal legal requirement for witnessed consent, regardless of the type of research, is desirable.
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