Dissertation Abstract

Informed consent has become one of the core elements of ethical healthcare since its advent in the 20th century, and has been taken to be essential in the protection of not only patients, but also medical research subjects. In my dissertation, I aim to examine the theoretical and epistemological underpinnings of informed consent, and identify what values it is taken to protect. I will suggest that the fundamental motivation behind informed consent rests in something I’ll call “bodily self-sovereignty”, which I take to be a coupling of 2 groups of values: autonomy and non-domination on the one hand, and self-ownership and personal integrity on the other. I will then go on to consider two ‘case studies’ I take to shed light on what is at stake in securing informed consent – consent in psychiatrically ill populations, and consent to research that involves modification of the genetic germline.

Research Overview

I work in biomedical ethics, particularly the ethics of genetic modification. In this domain, I have focused on whether we could legitimately pursue germline gene editing in both human and non-human animals in light of extant informed consent protocols. I have argued that it is at best unclear how informed consent can permit us to engage in modification of inheritable traits. This is due to two main factors: the downstream effects are uncertain; and the very idea of securing consent — even proxy consent — for future generations is itself problematic.

I am also interested in moral psychology, both on an experimental level and a conceptual level. On the one hand, I have collaborated on experiments that look at how self-directed moral emotions can impact attributions of responsibility through surveys designed to gauge the intuitions of respondents. On the other, I have been considering the evidentiary status of such moral intuitions in the first place, and how much weight it is legitimate to attribute to studies of exactly this sort. When taken together, I hope to have a better understanding of moral emotions, moral intuition, and moral psychology.