Informed consent and the capacity for voluntarism

Am J Psychiatry. 2002 May;159(5):705-12. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.159.5.705.


Objective: Informed consent is built upon the elements of information, decisional capacity, and volunteerism. Of these elements, voluntarism in clinical and research consent is the least well understood. This has interfered with the ability to resolve key ethical problems faced by the field of psychiatry.

Method: The author suggests that voluntarism encompasses an individual's ability to act in accordance with one's authentic sense of what is good, right, and best in light of one's situation, values, and prior history. Voluntarism further entails the capacity to make this choice freely and in the absence of coercion. Deliberateness, purposefulness of intent, clarity, genuineness, and coherence with prior life decisions are implicitly emphasized in this construction.

Results: The author offers and illustrates a framework for voluntarism in clinical and research consent decisions, focusing on four domains of potential influence: 1) developmental factors, 2) illness-related considerations, 3) psychological issues and cultural and religious values, and 4) external features and pressures.

Conclusions: It is hoped that improved understanding of voluntarism will help in our efforts to fulfill the principle of respect for persons in clinical care and research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Culture
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Human Experimentation* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Mental Competency / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Mental Competency / psychology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Patient Selection
  • Religion
  • Social Values