Lyons B, Dolezal L. Shame, health literacy and consent. Clinical Ethics. 2023;0(0). DOI: 10.1177/14777509231218203
This paper is particularly concerned with shame, sometimes considered the ‘master emotion’, and its possible role in affecting the consent process, specifically where that shame relates to the issue of diminished health literacy. We suggest that the absence of exploration of affective issues in general during the consent process is problematic, as emotions commonly impact upon our decision-making process. Experiencing shame in the healthcare environment can have a significant influence on choices related to health and healthcare, and may lead to discussions of possibilities and alternatives being closed off. In the case of impaired health literacy we suggest that it obstructs the narrowing of the epistemic gap between clinician and patient normally achieved through communication and information provision. Health literacy shame prevents acknowledgement of this barrier. The consequence is that it may render consent less effective than it otherwise might have been in protecting the person’s autonomy. We propose that the absence of consideration of health literacy shame during the consent process diminishes the possibility of the patient exerting full control over their choices, and thus bodily integrity.