The ethics of information: Absolute risk reduction and patient understanding of screening

Peter H. Schwartz, Eric M. Meslin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

28 Scopus citations


Some experts have argued that patients should routinely be told the specific magnitude and absolute probability of potential risks and benefits of screening tests. This position is motivated by the idea that framing risk information in ways that are less precise violates the ethical principle of respect for autonomy and its application in informed consent or shared decision-making. In this Perspective, we consider a number of problems with this view that have not been adequately addressed. The most important challenges stem from the danger that patients will misunderstand the information or have irrational responses to it. Any initiative in this area should take such factors into account and should consider carefully how to apply the ethical principles of respect for autonomy and beneficence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)867-870
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2008



  • Informed consent
  • Respect for autonomy
  • Risk and benefit data

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine

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