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History of Informed Consent and Medical Decision Making

Historians have argued about the degree to which informed consent was a part of medical practice prior to the 1970s. Martin Pernick has discovered evidence suggesting that physicians communicated meaningful information to patients, and that patients used this knowledge to guide decisions. Jay Katz has disagreed, seeing the physician-patient encounter as a largely silent one in which doctors made all the decisions. Barron H. Lerner has revisited the Pernick-Katz debate. He brought the issue into the modern era, studying the introduction of informed consent into clinical medicine after 1970. Why have good consent practices remained elusive? What can history teach us about ongoing efforts to improve doctor-patient communication? Dr. Lerner received two grants to study informed consent. These are "The Origins of Informed Consent: Cancer Patients and Doctors" (funded by the National Library of Medicine) and "The Origins of Informed Consent: How History can Illuminate Current Ethical Dilemmas" (funded by the Greenwall Foundation).

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