The directive 2001/20/UE and the research involving patients with docs. Research involving patients with disorders of consciousness (DOCs) deserves special ethical and legal attention because of its Janus-faced nature. On the one hand, it raises concerns about the risk to expose the involved subjects to disproportionate risks not respecting their individual dignity, particularly their right to be cared for; on the other hand, research is an essential tool in order to improve the clinical condition of patients with DOCs. The present paper concerns the ethical and legal dimensions of biomedical research involving patients with disorders of consciousness. In particular, it focuses on informed consent to experimental treatments, which is a challenging issue both from an ethical and legal point of view. The first part reads the Directive 2001/20/EU in the light of the experimentation of patients with DOCs, and suggests a revision in order to better assess the issue of informed consent.
The particular case of informed consent for observational studies of non-communicative patients. The second part presents an informed consent form for studies through video-recording of patients unable to communicate their own consent. This form has been elaborated by the bioethics unit of the project “Review of the nosography of vegetative states: application of methods of behavioral analysis to individuals in coma or vegetative state” developed at the Italian National Institute of Health.
Relevance of the suggested form. The paper describes the conceptual framework of the form for informed consent to studies through video-recoding, which is a relevant example of what issues should be included in an informed consent for any type of studies through video-recording of patients unable to express their own consent. The article has been sent on November the 7th 2013, before the adoption of the Regulation (EU) no. 536/2014 (and consequent abrogation of the Directive 2001/20/EU) and the release of the new edition of the Italian Code of Medical Ethics.