Dr. Pamela J. Lomelino's Community, Autonomy, and Informed Consent: Revisiting the Philosophical Foundation for Informed Consent in International Research
An Interview by Lauren Dennis
Pamela Lomelino, Ph.D. is currently an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Loyola University Chicago. Prior to teaching at Loyola, Professor Lomelino taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she received The Best Should Teach award. She received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Colorado in 2011. She also received a Women & Gender Studies graduate certificate from the University of Colorado Women’s Studies Department and a College Teaching certificate from the University of Colorado Graduate Teacher Program. Her areas of specialization are Bioethics, Feminist Philosophy, and Ethics (Theory and Applied). In her book, Community, Autonomy & Informed Consent: Revisiting the Philosophical Foundation for Informed Consent in International Research (Cambridge Scholarly Press, 2015), Dr. Lomelino addresses the need to revise the underlying philosophical foundation for international informed consent guidelines for research on human subjects in order to make these guidelines more globally applicable.
Tell us about your book: Community, Autonomy, and Informed Consent: Revisiting the Philosophical Foundation for Informed Consent in International Research.
Because such epidemics as HIV/AIDs have resulted in an increase in medical research in less developed countries, the need to recognize the importance of community in these countries has become a primary concern in guidelines for international research on human subjects. In my book, I explain how recent attempts to incorporate community in the informed consent process fail to achieve their intended goal of balancing respect for cross-cultural differences with respect for autonomy. I insist that this general problem is two-fold: (1) current guidelines fail to adequately acknowledge the importance community has for many people in less developed countries; and (2) they fail to attend to constraints to autonomy that oftentimes get magnified once community is involved in the informed consent process. In order to identify and resolve these problems, I point out why and how we must analyze the underlying concepts of persons and autonomy that lie at the heart of how we structure informed consent. In doing so, I explain how we must revise our notion of autonomy to one that is universally applicable, given cross-cultural differences in conceptions of the person. Drawing on this philosophical analysis, I comprise a set of ethical conditions for best ensuring respect for autonomy and illustrate how these conditions can be translated into specific amendments to current guidelines for informed consent in international research on human subjects.
In your book, you draw upon concepts from Bioethics, Feminist Philosophy, Political Philosophy, and African Philosophy. Can you describe how this marriage of concepts and principles from such varied subsections of philosophy came about?
My training in Feminist Philosophy, especially Feminist Methodologies, provided me with the general skill of recognizing the need to understand how various sub disciplines in Philosophy come into play in philosophically analyzing an ethical issue. With this training as my backdrop, I began my specific analysis of informed consent by drawing from Bioethics to understand the purpose, necessary conditions, philosophical foundation, practice and guidelines for the informed consent process. I then turned to Feminist Philosophy, specifically Feminist Bioethics, for identifying vulnerable populations, information on additional constraints to autonomy, and revised notions of autonomy that might be more suitable for international medical research. To understand how larger social injustices in less developed countries might bear on autonomy, I looked to Political Philosophy. And, importantly, to understand whether the underlying concepts of persons and autonomy that underlie how informed consent is structured were actually universalizable, I studied African Philosophy.
The Philosophy Department and Bioethics Minor Program are hosting an event on November 11th in honor of your book. What can students and faculty who attend the event look forward to?
In general, they can look forward to taking away something they can use in their own lives and/or their research interests. Despite this seeming like a bold statement, the fact of the matter is that we all strive to make autonomous choices in our lives, and we all provide informed consent at some point in our lives. The information we will discuss regarding autonomy and informed consent is applicable to these areas beyond the specific focus of the book. In addition, those whose research interests focus on ethical issues can look forward to a discussion of the methodology I used in my book, which is useful both within and outside of the medical context.
When did you first discover your interest in philosophy, and what is your favorite aspect of being a philosopher?
I first discovered my interest in philosophy while taking philosophy courses as an undergraduate that were part of the general education requirements for my major (which, at the time, was not philosophy). I was so intrigued by the questions that were being asked and the way that we were being taught to critically analyze these questions and their answers that I switched my major to Philosophy. It is this emphasis on critical thinking and the ability to apply these skills to identifying and resolving various ethical issues in the medical context that continues to be my favorite aspect of being a philosopher.
Outside of philosophy, what are you passionate about?
Fortunately, many of the things I am passionate about are reflected in my life as a philosopher (both as a professor and as a researcher): opening hearts and minds, caring for and empowering others, social justice, and learning about and embracing our differences. Those things I am passionate about that are not expressed through philosophy are family, the arts (dance, music, theater), and a love of the great outdoors (hiking and kayaking).
The event for Dr. Lomelino will be held on Wednesday, November 11th at 4:30 p.m. on the 4th floor of the Information Commons. All interested Loyola students and faculty members are welcome to attend.