Giving Addicts Their Drug of Choice: The Problem of Consent
Bioethics 2008 July; 22(6): 314-320
Researchers working on drug addiction may, for a variety of reasons, want to carry out research which involves giving addicts their drug of choice. In carrying out this research consent needs to be obtained from those addicts recruited to participate in it. Concerns have been raised about whether or not such addicts are able to give this consent. Despite their differences, however, both sides in this debate appear to be agreed that the way to resolve this issue is to determine whether or not addicts have irresistible cravings for drugs - if they do, then they cannot consent to this type of research; if they do not, then they can. This I will argue is a mistake. Determining whether or not addicts can say 'No' to offers of drugs will not help us to make much progress here. Instead we need to look at the various ways in which different types of research may undermine an addict's competence to give consent. What we will find is that the details of the research make a big difference here and that, as such, we need to steer a course between, on the one hand, painting all addicts as being unable to consent to research which involves providing them with drugs, and, on the other, maintaining that there are no problems in obtaining consent from addicts to take part in such research.
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