Addiction, Autonomy, and Informed Consent

On and off the Garden Path

Neil Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Citations (Scopus)


Several ethicists have argued that research trials and treatment programs that involve the provision of drugs to addicts are prima facie unethical, because addicts can't refuse the offer of drugs and therefore can't give informed consent to participation. In response, several people have pointed out that addiction does not cause a compulsion to use drugs. However, since we know that addiction impairs autonomy, this response is inadequate. In this paper, I advance a stronger defense of the capacity of addicts to participate in the programs envisaged. I argue that it is only in certain circumstances that addicts find themselves choosing in ways that conflict with their genuine preferences. Research and treatment programs have none of the features that characterize choices in these autonomy-undermining circumstances, and there is therefore no reason to think that addicts lack the capacity to give informed consent to these programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-73
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Medicine and Philosophy (United Kingdom)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • addiction
  • capacity
  • informed consent
  • research ethics

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