Informed consent and research involving the newly dead

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 2002 Dec;12(4):351-72. doi: 10.1353/ken.2002.0028.


This paper examines informed consent in relation to research involving the newly dead. Reasons are presented for facilitating advance decision making in relation to postmortem research, and it is argued that the informed consent of family members should be sought when the deceased have not made a premortem decision. Regardless of whether the dead can be harmed, there are two important respects in which family consent can serve to protect the dead: (1) protecting the deceased's body from being used for research that is incompatible with the person's postmortem preferences and values and (2) protecting the deceased's body's from being subject to disrespectful treatment. These claims are explained and justified, and several objections are critically examined. Additional reasons for securing family consent are presented including to protect them from additional emotional distress, to respect their wishes about wanting to have a say, and to maintain public trust in the medical profession and medical research. The paper also examines the scope of disclosure in relation to postmortem research.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives / psychology
  • Brain Death*
  • Cadaver*
  • Decision Making
  • Disclosure
  • Ethical Analysis*
  • Family* / psychology
  • Human Experimentation / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Social Values
  • Third-Party Consent / ethics*
  • Tissue Donors