Consent Guidelines


Informed Consent

Federal Requirements and Elements of Consent

Consent Process

Other IRBs’ Consent Form Requirements


Informed Consent

Based on the governing principles of human research outlined in "The Belmont Report," investigators have key responsibility for ensuring voluntary participation of research subjects. The recruitment plan and consent process must be carefully designed so that subjects’ consent will be well-informed and freely given.

Any prospective research subject (or his/her legally authorized representative) should be able to understand as completely as possible what procedures, risks, benefits, alternatives and rights are involved, and make the choice about being in the study without pressure or undue inducement to participate. Free and informed consent is not one-time event, but an ongoing process.

With few exceptions, researchers must obtain and document consent from the prospective research subject before initiating any screening or study procedures. Any exceptions must be reviewed and approved by the IRB beforehand.

Federal Requirements and Elements of Consent

OHRP and the FDA enforce federal regulations covering informed consent in research involving human subjects — 45 CFR 46, Section 46.116-117 and​ 21 CFR 50, respectively. These regulations are applied to all human research at UCSF. 

45 CFR 46.116 describes general requirements for informed consent.

Except as provided elsewhere in this policy, no investigator may involve a human being as a subject in research covered by this policy unless the investigator has obtained the legally effective informed consent of the subject or the subject's legally authorized representative. An investigator shall seek such consent only under circumstances that provide the prospective subject or the representative sufficient opportunity to consider whether or not to participate and that minimize the possibility of coercion or undue influence. The information that is given to the subject or the representative shall be in language understandable to the subject or the representative. No informed consent, whether oral or written, may include any exculpatory language through which the subject or the representative is made to waive or appear to waive any of the subject's legal rights, or releases or appears to release the investigator, the sponsor, the institution or its agents from liability for negligence.

Elements of Consent: The regulations stipulate eight basic required elements of informed consent and six additional elements that may be added to a consent form when appropriate. The Federal Requirements for Approving Consent Forms Checklist describe the elements of informed consent and local consent requirements. Use the UCSF consent and assent form templates, which satisfy federal and institutional consent requirements. 

As a reminder, the consent form is one part of the entire consent process. The consent document serves as a written summary of the information that was presented and is a useful reference for the subject and the investigator.

Consent Process


In general, informed consent is documented with a written consent form approved in advance by the IRB and incorporating the required elements of consent. See the Obtaining and Documenting Informed Consent page for detailed information on how to conduct the consent discussion and document the consent process.

Exceptions to informed consent requirements

The IRB may approve exceptions or alterations to the general rule for informed consent, including a waiver of all consentsurrogate consent for individuals who can give informed consent for themselves; verbal, electronic or implied consent; or use of a short-form process for subjects who cannot read English. You must justify any exception in your IRB Application.

Vulnerable populations

There are special consent considerations and requirements for research that involves certain vulnerable populations, such as children or pregnant women.

Other IRBs’ Consent Form Requirements

The UCSF IRB is willing to rely on other specified IRBs in limited circumstances. The IRB also is willing to consider accepting and reviewing consent forms not written in the UCSF format in certain circumstances in which the form has been or will be approved by another duly constituted IRB. 

Use the Consent Form Checklist for Using a Non-UCSF Consent Form when modifying the consent forms, assent forms, information sheets and recruitment materials. The consent document must meet the federal criteria for IRB approval of a consent form, and the minor changes described in the checklist provide local context and meet California legal and University of California requirements.

In the Section 1.8 of the Initial Review Submission Packet (special processing instructions), explain your request to use a consent form in a non-UCSF format. See Working With Other Institutions for additional information.