Informed Consent

  • George J. Annas

Abstract

Information is power, and because information sharing inevitably results in decision sharing, the doctrine of informed consent has helped transform the doctor-patient relationship. This is why informed consent is the most important legal doctrine in both the doctor-patient relationship and treatment in health care facilities. Not only is it important because of its implications for power and accountability, but it is also important because many of the other rights patients have are either derived from or enhanced by the doctrine of informed consent. The basic concept is simple: A doctor cannot touch or treat a patient until the doctor has given the patient some basic information about what the doctor proposes to do, and the patient has agreed to the proposed treatment or procedure. The overwhelming majority of Americans agree with this proposition, and the foundation on which it stands: People have a right not to have their bodies invaded without their approval because of their interests in bodily integrity and self-determination. Put more simply, it is the patient’s body. The patient is the one who must experience the invasion and live with its consequences. There is no obligation to accept any medical treatment, and it is remarkable that anyone ever considered it acceptable practice to treat a person without that person’s informed consent. Physicians have no roving mandate to treat whomever they believe may need their services.

Keywords

Stake Cali Guaran Smallpox 

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Notes

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    A typical release form is: I, [name], refuse to allow anyone to [treatment]. The risks attendant to my refusal have been fully explained to me, and I fully understand that I will in all probability need [treatment], and that if the same is not done, my chances for regaining normal health are seriously reduced, and that in all probability, my refusal for such treatment or procedure will seriously imperil my life. I hereby release the Hospital, its nurses and employees, together with all physicians in any way connected with me as a patient, from liability for respecting and following my express wishes and direction. The form will also contain a clause setting forth religious objections if that is the basis for the patient’s refusal.Google Scholar
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    See Mariner, Informed Consent in the Post-Modem Era, 13 Law & Social Inquiry 385, 405 (1988); and Meisel, A “Dignitary Tort” as a Bridge Between the Idea of Informed Consent and the Law of Informed Consent, 16 Law, Medicine & Health Care 210 (1988).Google Scholar
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    Physicians recognize that informed consent can be used educationally and can positively and powerfully affect a doctor-patient alliance or partnership to their mutual benefit. As Dr. Drummond Rennie has advised his physician colleagues: Physicians must do more than just “improve consent forms” but must see “education...as a worthwhile therapeutic goal…to give patients equality in the covenant by educating them [as a counselor and advocate] to make informed decisions” (Informed Consent by “Well-Nigh Abject” Adults, 23 New Eng. J. Med. 917, 918 [1980]).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© George J. Annas and the American Civil Liberties Union 1992

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  • George J. Annas

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