Anything goes? Analyzing Varied Understandings of Assent

Giles Birchley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Assent to medical research or treatment may be an intuitively attractive way to address the area between incapacity and capacity that might otherwise be subject to a best interests assessment. Assent has become a widely disseminated concept in law, research and clinical ethics, but little conceptual work on assent has so far occurred. An exploration of use of assent in treatment and research in children and people with dementia suggests that at least five claims are made on behalf of assent. Since at least some of these may lead to tensions with others, assent requires firmer conceptual underpinning. Whether assent remains primarily a local approach to research in children in the USA, where it appears to fit with legal background conditions, or develops its promise to overturn the dominant, binary, approach to (in)capacity will depend on the strength of future philosophical work to improve the theoretical foundations to assent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-89
Number of pages14
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Issue number1
Early online date5 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Wellcome Trust Grant No. 209841/Z/17/Z. For the purpose of Open Access, the authors have applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2022.

Structured keywords



  • Assent
  • Children
  • Dementia
  • Capacity
  • Research ethics
  • Clinical Ethics


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