What is consent?

This is probably one of the most fundamental laws involved with medicine, stating that no treatment can be carried without the consent of that patient. It means that before any examination or treatment of a competent adult, the medical professional must first seek their consent. This law protects the patient’s ability to make their own decisions and therefore means nothing that they don’t want to happen will happen. Although maybe frustrating for the doctor, a patient can refuse treatment even if it was in their best interests to pursue the treatment.

This consent can be oral, written or of a different form and once given, provides the professional with the ability to further the process of treatment. It must be noted however that to get to the stage where consent is given, the patient must be given all the information about what is going to happen. Failure to provide sufficient evidence could provide the patient with leverage in court to sue the professional. It is key that the patient is provided with all the information as it is likely that their opinion of what they want to happen next will incorporate a multitude of factors.

There are, however, several situations that come to affect the rule of consent. Firstly, if an individual is under the age of 16 then they are not able to consent to any treatment. Once they turn 16 they are seen to have the capacity to be able to decide and consent for themselves. There is also a further consideration that the person that is giving consent must have the cognitive capacity to be able to consent. This means that if a patient has a condition that affects their ability to process information then they cannot form a decision for themselves then they cannot consent. This does pose some questions as to whether it is correct that a person, no matter the relation, can decide what happens next in that person’s treatment.

For the patient to be able to consent for themselves they must first satisfy the following:

  • The patient must understand the information given to them and have the capacity to really understand what is meant.
  • The patient should then further retain the information for a prolonged time and then use it in order to make their final decision.
  • The patient must also have the capacity to consider both the positives and the negatives of the treatment in order to reach a conclusion
  • Finally, the patient must be able in some way to communicate the information.

Consent is one of the most important things that a doctor can obtain to treat a patient. Failure to seek consent, however, breaks the law and can result in serious consequences.

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