Wenqing Zhao

Abstract 摘要

Informed consent is considered to be one of the most important conceptual developments in contemporary bioethics, and is strongly implicated in the regulation of clinical practices in the West. Over the past decade, the growing prevalence of both liberal arguments supporting individual autonomy and rights-based debates focusing on equality has brought the concept of informed consent into the purview of Chinese legislation pertaining to healthcare and clinical practice. However, most of the laws and regulations are made by Chinese authorities in ignorance of the concept’s ethical groundings. In addition, lawmakers have not taken into account the empirical reality and specific situations of clinical practice in contemporary China. This essay contends that the history of informed consent legislation in China since 1994, exemplified by the recently adopted Article 55 of the Tort Law of the People’s Republic of China, reveals conflicting understandings of the ethical foundation of the notion of informed consent. The essay also presents extensive interviews conducted by the author with four frontline medical practitioners in first-tier cities that demonstrate how their experiences with informed consent are largely shaped by current institutional settings and influenced by traditional Confucian ethical norms, (e.g., an emphasis on interdependence among family members, which requires the doctor to consult with the family rather than the patient). The essay concludes that we must take into serious consideration the Chinese ethical tradition and its unique application in practice when cross-fertilizing the concept of informed consent.