A Puzzling Anomaly: Decision-Making Capacity and Research on Addiction

Oxford Handbook of Research Ethics (2020)
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Any ethical inquiry into addiction research is faced with the preliminary challenge that the term “addiction” is itself a matter of scientific and ethical controversy. Accordingly, the chapter begins with a brief history of the term “addiction.” The chapter then turns to ethical issues surrounding consent and decision-making capacity viewed from the perspective of the current opioid epidemic. One concern is the neglect of the cyclical nature of addiction and the implications of this for the validity of current psychometric instruments used to evaluate decision-making capacity in addiction. Another is the apparent discrepancy—possibly an ethical double standard—in the manner in which society and addiction researchers view the mental capacity and vulnerability of individuals who suffer from severe addiction. On the whole, the main ethical concern of the chapter is the puzzling lack of clinical research on decision-making capacity in research on addiction.

Author's Profile

Louis C. Charland
PhD: University of Western Ontario


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