Argumentation and informed consent in the doctor–patient relationship
Jerome Bickenbach |
University of Lucerne and Swiss Paraplegic Research (SPF), Nottwil, Switzerland
Argumentation theory has much to offer our understanding of the doctor–patient relationship as it plays out in the context of seeking and obtaining consent to treatment. In order to harness the power of argumentation theory in this regard, I argue, it is necessary to take into account insights from the legal and bioethical dimensions of informed consent, and in particular to account for features of the interaction that make it psychologically complex: that there is a fundamental asymmetry of authority, power and expertise between doctor and patient; that, given the potential for coercion, it is a challenge to preserve the interactive balance presumed by the requirement of informed consent; and finally that the necessary condition that patients be ‘competent to consent’ may undermine the requirement of respecting patient autonomy. I argue argumentation theory has the resources to deal with these challenges and expand our knowledge, and appreciation, of the informed consent interaction in health care.