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Medical Ghostwriting and Informed Consent


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared


Ghostwriting in its various forms has received critical scrutiny from medical ethicists, journal editors, and science studies scholars trying to explain where ghostwriting goes wrong and ascertain how to counter it. Recent analyses have characterized ghostwriting as plagiarism or fraud, and have urged that it be deterred through stricter compliance with journal submission requirements, conflict of interest disclosures, author-institutional censure, legal remedies, and journals' refusal to publish commercially sponsored articles. As a supplement to such efforts, this paper offers a critical assessment of medical ghostwriting as contrary to good patient care, on the grounds that it contradicts established general principles guiding clinical ethics. Specifically, I argue that ghostwriting undermines trust relationships between authors and their readers, and between these readers and their trusting patients, and in so doing contradicts the duty of respect for patient autonomy by obstructing informed consent. For this reason, complicity in ghostwriting practices should be understood as a violation of the professional ethical duties of physicians and other healthcare workers.

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