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It is easy to forget but crucial to remember that when lawmakers decide to regulate an activity, they must select a method. The law of bioethics particularly favors one method-requiring disclosure of information. The doctrine of informed consent obliges doctors to tell patients their treatment choices. The administrative law of research ethics insists that researchers warn subjects of the risks of experiments. The Patient Self-Determination Act compels medical institutions to remind patients about advance directives. The federal government's new privacy regulations instruct medical institutions to describe their privacy regime to patients. Not just the law of bioethics, but health law in general, repeatedly recruits disclosure requirements. For example, they are central to the recurring proposals for patients' bills of rights. Likewise, "virtually every bill ... to regulate managed care devotes major portions to. information disclosure and dissemination." Proposals for "consumer-directed health care" tantalize us with the dream that well-informed patients can make markets for health care work effectively.


Reprinted with the permission of the Hastings Center Report and Wiley-Blackwell.