I’ve been doing some thinking – not a lot, obviously, because one doesn’t want to overdo that sort of thing – about the nature of informed consent. I’m curious about what people think about the following scenario, which is designed to illuminate one aspect of the phenomenon.
You’re on a cliff, and in front of you is a narrow path, to the right of which there is a sheer drop down to the sea. You’re about to choose whether to traverse this path or instead turn back and head for home, when a syringe drops from the sky injecting you with a drug that has the following effect.
You remain aware of all the reasons why the narrow path spells danger. You are also aware that normally you would be very reluctant to traverse the path. However, as a result of the drug, these things no longer have any significant motivational force – they have lost the capacity to bind your behaviour. Put simply, you know that you would be taking a risk by not turning back, but you don’t care – it doesn’t feel as if it is a big deal (although, if asked, you could explain why it was a big deal and would report that previously you would have felt it to be a big deal – but you wouldn’t care about of these things either ).
The question is whether under these circumstances any choice you make is a fully informed choice? Or, to put this question a slightly different way, if I told you that you had to make the choice under these circumstances, would you feel that you were being deprived of something central to the decision-making process?
My tentative view is that would not be a fully informed choice, even though you still have access to all the relevant information.
As I say, I’d be very curious to know what other people think about this…