Therapeutic Misconception: Hope, Trust and Misconception in Paediatric Research


Although the therapeutic misconception (TM) has been well described over a period of approximately 20 years, there has been disagreement about its implications for informed consent to research. In this paper we review some of the history and debate over the ethical implications of TM but also bring a new perspective to those debates. Drawing upon our experience of working in the context of translational research for rare childhood diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, we consider the ethical and legal implications of the TM for parental consent to research. In this situation, it is potentially the parent who is vulnerable to TM. In our analysis we not only consider the context of informed consent for research but also the wider environment in which the value of research is promoted, more broadly through the media but also more specifically through the communication strategies of patient organizations. All dissemination about developments in research for health runs the risk of portraying an overly optimistic view of the promise of biotechnological solutions and has the potential to encourage a ‘collective’ TM. In this paper we consider the challenge that TM presents to parents as well as explore the ethical and legal responsibilities of researchers to ensure an appropriately informed consent: compatible with a hopeful disposition of parents who consent for the their children whilst avoiding a blind and misleading optimism.

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TREAT-NMD is funded by the EU via FP6 under contract number LSHM-CT-2006-036825.

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Woods, S., Hagger, L.E. & McCormack, P. Therapeutic Misconception: Hope, Trust and Misconception in Paediatric Research. Health Care Anal 22, 3–21 (2014).

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  • Children
  • Informed consent
  • Hope
  • Optimism
  • Paediatric
  • Parents
  • Research
  • Clinical trials
  • Therapeutic misconception