Informed consent is one of the primary ethical requirements underpinning research with human subjects; it reflects the basic principle of respect for persons. It is too often forgotten that informed consent is an ongoing process, not a piece of paper or a discrete moment in time. Informed consent assures that prospective human subjects will understand the nature of the research and can knowledgeably and voluntarily decide whether or not to participate. This assurance protects all parties, the subject, whose autonomy is respected, and the investigator, who otherwise faces legal hazards. The "proxy consent" of someone other than the subject is not the same as the subject's own consent, although it may be an acceptable substitute when a subject is unable to give informed consent.
The informed consent process should be an active process of sharing information between the investigator and the prospective subject. The exchange of information between the investigator and prospective subjects can occur via one or more of the following modes of communication, among others: face-to-face contact; mail; telephone; video; or fax. Prospective subjects should be provided with ample opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification from the investigator. The prospective subjects should be in a position to freely decide whether to initially enroll in the research, or later, to withdraw or continue participating in the research. The informed consent process should ensure that all critical information about a study is completely disclosed, and that prospective subjects or their legally authorized representatives adequately understand the research so that they can make informed choices.
For most research, informed consent is documented using a written document that provides key information regarding the research. The consent form is intended, in part, to provide information for the potential subject’s current and future reference and to document the interaction between the subject and the investigator. However, even if a signed consent form is required, it alone does not constitute an adequate consent process. The informed consent process is an ongoing exchange of information between the investigator and the subject and could include, for example, use of question and answer sessions, community meetings, and videotape presentations. In all circumstances, however, individuals should be provided with an opportunity to have their questions and concerns addressed on an individual basis.
Informed Consent FAQs: http://answers.hhs.gov/ohrp/categories/1566
For reference: http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/policy/consent/index.html