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Department of Cognitive Science

Seminar Abstract

Consent without memory.

Speaker : Professor Carl Craver, Department of Philosophy, Washington University in St Louis, USA.
Date : 8th of November 2017, 11:00AM until 12:00PM
Location : Australian Hearing Hub, 3.610, Macquarie University.

Can someone with episodic amnesia consent to participate in a scientific experiment? What, if anything, does episodic memory contribute to the fact that persons can, and so deserve the right to, consent? These questions have taken center stage in recent historical reflections on the life of H.M., his central role in the advancement of the neuroscience of memory, and his treatment at the hands of Brenda Milner and Sue Corkin (Dittrich 2016). Yet this discussion has thus far been carried out without any sustained discussion of why it seems so plausible that memory, and episodic memory in particular, are required for one to have the right to speak for one’s self about participation in scientific experiments. I argue that “dual consent” approaches, common in research on amnesia, are in fact little improvement over consent by proxy models. I then show that several ordinary facts about consent are inconsistent with the intuition that memory of any sort, let alone episodic memory, is required for one properly to give consent. I then consider some empirical evidence about the residual capacities of individuals with episodic amnesia to understand relevant features of the consent process, to reason about their decisions, and to avoid forms of coercion during the consent encounter. In doing so, I argue that even individuals with complete episodic amnesia might well deserve the right to speak for themselves about whether they want to participate in scientific experiments.

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