Public's approach to surrogate consent for dementia research: Cautious pragmatism

Raymond De Vries, Kerry A. Ryan, Aimee Stanczyk, Paul S. Appelbaum, Laura Damschroder, David S. Knopman, Scott Y.H. Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Objectives: To describe how members of the older general public deliberate with one another in finding solutions to the dilemma of involving persons with decisional incapacity in dementia research. Design, setting, and participants: One hundred sixty persons age 50 years and older who participated in an all-day deliberative democracy session on the ethics of surrogate consent for dementia research. The deliberative democracy day consisted of both extensive, interactive education with experts in clinical research and ethics, as well as small group deliberations. Measurements: Audiotaped small group deliberations were transcribed and analyzed and the main thematic elements were coded. Results: During deliberation, participants acknowledged the limitations of advanced research directives and discussed ways to improve their use. Although there was consensus about the necessity of surrogate consent, the participants recognized potential pitfalls and looked for ways to safeguard the process. Participants supporting surrogate consent for research emphasized societal and individual benefits, the importance of assent, and trust in surrogates and the oversight system. Other participants felt that the high risk of some research scenarios was not sufficiently offset by benefits to patients or society. Conclusions: Members of the older general public are able to make use of in-depth education and peer deliberation to provide reasoned and informed opinions on the ethical use of surrogate consent for dementia research. The public's approach to surrogate consent is one of cautious pragmatism: an overall trust in science and future surrogates with awareness of the potential pitfalls, suggesting that their trust cannot be taken for granted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)364-372
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Deliberative democracy
  • Dementia
  • Surrogate consent

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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