A Reflection on Faden and Beauchamp’s Concept of Informed Consent

Faden and Beauchamp differentiate two definitions of Informed consent. In their entry “The Concept of Informed Consent”, they label these two definitions into different senses. The first sense, labeled Sense1, distinguishes informed consent as being “active authorization” by the patient. This is to be differentiated from agreeing or submitting to an authoritative figure, in which Faden gives an interesting example; A child submitting to a punishment such as a spanking from an authoritative figure, like a parent, and the child giving an active directive to do so of their own autonomy are distinct. Sense1 can be defined as a patient of their own autonomy who has substantial understanding of the procedure intentionally authorizing a professional to perform said procedure. Katz views informed consent and shared decision-making between patient and doctor as synonymous, to which Faden Beauchamp do not agree. They view shared decision-making to be manipulative and under the Sense1 definition, a shared decision does not need to be reached for a patient to exercise autonomous authorization.

Conversely, the second sense, labeled Sense2, is defined as effective consent, or obtainment of procedures that satisfy rules and requirements of institutional practice. In other words, the informed consent that was valid in sense1 is only valid in sense2 if they meet the requirements -often of social or legal design- of that said practice. The example Faden gives is a 19-year-old giving authorized consent to a kidney transplant. This meets the definition of informed consent in Sense1, however because the law states the legal age of consent to surgery is 21, the decision is not valid under Sense2. Adequate consent in Sense1 does not always equal adequate consent in Sense2 and vice versa. Faden and Beauchamp rest on the idea that the justification behind obtaining informed consent is in deference to autonomy. While Sense2 is “morally acceptable” even when it differs significantly from Sense1, it can veer away from the absolute necessity for authoritative autonomy and therefore prove problematic in terms of morality.

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