Doctors and other healthcare practitioners are not permitted to treat a patient against his will or without his knowledge and understanding. Healthcare practitioners are required to obtain the informed consent of the patient prior to commencing each particular treatment. The failure of a doctor to obtain the patient’s informed consent is considered malpractice.
Informed consent requires more than just the patient’s permission to perform the treatment or procedure. In order to obtain the informed consent of the patient, the doctor must provide the patient with the information that a reasonable person in the situation of the patient would require to make a decision about the treatment. The doctor must also provide the patient with any additional information about the treatment that the patient requests.
The type of information that the doctor must provide to the patient includes details about the treatment or procedure itself, the expected benefits of the treatment to the patient, the possible risks and side effects of the treatment, any alternative treatments, and the consequences to the patient if the patient does not receive the treatment.
The information given by the doctor must be accurate and impartial. Consent obtained after giving the patient false information may not qualify as informed consent.
The patient must give informed consent voluntarily. It is important that the patient does not feel as though she was coerced or forced into consenting to the treatment in question. A patient has the right to refuse treatment, even if the doctor believes that the treatment is in the patient’s best interest.
In order to provide (or refuse to provide) informed consent, a patient must have the capacity to understand the information provided by the doctor as well as the ability to understand the consequences of the decision. Unless there is reason to believe otherwise, capacity to provide informed consent is assumed.
There is no minimum age for providing informed consent. Younger children will likely not meet the test for capacity for any medical treatments. Older children or teenagers may meet the test, depending on the complexity of the treatment. If a minor does not have the capacity to provide informed consent for a particular treatment, her parents or guardians must provide it for her.
Informed consent is not required in an emergency situation. An emergency has been defined as when the patient is in severe pain or is at risk of serious bodily harm. Emergency treatments may be commenced by healthcare practitioners in emergency situations in order to preserve life and reduce the suffering of the patient.
If you believe that a doctor or other healthcare practitioner performed a treatment on you without first obtaining informed consent, contact a medical malpractice lawyer immediately.