Department of Bioethics and Health Humanities Seminar
Consent and Withdrawal in
Thursday, December 8, 2022
12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
Emma Tumilty, PhD
Assistant Professor & Associate Director of Graduate Studies
Department of Bioethics & Health Humanities
Member, Institute for Bioethics & Health Humanities
School of Public and Population Health
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There is a burgeoning psychedelic medicine research field (and related industry) exploring a range of psychedelic interventions for various mental health conditions. The environment is saturated with hype (and misinformation) and controversy. While some of these interventions currently look promising, much of the interventional evidence generated to date is low to moderate quality. Whistleblowers have recently disclosed questionable research practices in addition to lasting harms from clinical misconceptions, boundary violations, and serious malpractice by trial therapists (including post-trial criminal actions).
In this talk, I will describe the range of ethical issues arising in this complex research environment and the challenges for researchers and those reviewing this work. I then focus on what I think is the most pressing issue: consent. I discuss three aspects of consent in the psychedelic research process: enrolment, issues of touch, and session/research withdrawal. I discuss whether dynamic consent processes can improve ethical practice here , as well as describe a precautionary principle approach to touch and withdrawal. Challenges in managing these processes and overseeing their management are described.
Psychedelic medicine may provide a much needed effective intervention for mental illnesses for some people. The current environment surrounding psychedelic medicine makes the robust and ethical exploration of their efficacy difficult. Further awareness and discussion is needed from researchers and regulators to address the difficulties specific to this setting. Problems left unaddressed (or suppressed) in the research environment are likely to be magnified and multiplied in clinical settings and so there is an urgent need to get this work right, ethically, scientifically, and clinically.