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Professor Nancy Kim Publishes Book on Consent

Prof. Nancy Kim

Body hacking. Cryonics. Experimental drug trials. Consumer travel to Mars. Assisted suicide.

At the center of all these controversial activities is the issue of consent. An issue that California Western’s Professor Nancy Kim explores in her new book, Consentability: Consent and its Limits.

In Consentability, published by Cambridge University Press in both the U.K. and the U.S., Kim analyzes the meaning of consent, introduces a consentability framework, and suggests ways to improve the conditions of consent and reduce opportunism.

“The book tackles the issue of consentability, which is the issue of why do we allow people to consent to certain activities but not to others,” explains Kim. “It captures two concepts. The first is, is it possible for somebody to consent given human cognitive and behavioral limitations? And the second concept is the aspect of legality—is it legal to consent to this particular activity and if not, why?”

Kim looks at activities in three different categories. First, self-directed activities; second, activities that have to do with a persons’ bodily integrity; and third, novel procedures or cutting-edge experiments and whether or not people should be allowed to consent to something that’s never been done before where there is little information about potential consequences.

“I develop a framework that looks at how to think through whether or not something should be consentable, and in order to do that, you first have to try to define what consent is,” says Kim. “Most of the time when we say somebody consented or didn’t consent, it’s really just a conclusion that we reach not really explaining why or how we reach that conclusion.”

Consent is complex because humans and their relationships are complicated, explains Kim. Humans, as a result of cognitive limitations and emotional and physical vulnerabilities, are susceptible to manipulation and mistakes.

“When you make a decision, you don’t make it in a vacuum, so you have certain limitations as far as your understanding of what you consented to,” says Kim.

“When you consent to participate in, for example, a new experiment that’s never been done before, you are consenting to something you don’t know much about. But valid consent requires knowledge so the question is raised, can one ever validly consent to the unknown?”

Consentability: Consent and its Limits is available through Cambridge University Press. A 20 percent discount on the title is offered on orders placed through December 20, 2019. To obtain the discount enter the code KIM2019 at the checkout.

LISTEN: Professor Kim recently joined Aaron Freiwald, host of the nationally acclaimed weekly podcast, Good Law Bad Law to talk about her new book, Consentability and what constitutes consent and consentability and how they apply to the law. Listen to the Podcast here

OFFICIAL BOOK LAUNCH AT CALIFORNIA WESTERN: Please join Professor Kim for a reception and book signing to celebrate the release of Consentability: Consent and its Limits May 30, 2019 at 12:45 p.m. in the 350 Cedar Street Lobby at California Western. The first 50 students will receive a free, signed copy of Professor Kim’s book.