Informed consent in terms of medicine means that a patient has been given in understandable language:
- Description of their condition or illness
- Proposed treatment or procedure descriptions
- The expected degree of success treatment might provide (there are never guarantees, only expectations)
- Risks that are involved with treatment, risks involved with not treating (or refusing treatment)
- Alternative treatment options should also be covered with success ratings, risks also covered
- Physician or person treating patient should assess whether the patient, or the patient’s guardian understood the former descriptions
- Patient agrees or disagrees with the above- and should not be coerced or manipulated if they do not agree with the doctor as far as treatment.
When dealing with minor patients, the parent or guardian is the person to grant informed consent for treatment. If a child is old enough to understand their condition and treatment options, then they should not be excluded from the process. If the parents of a minor cannot be reached for consent of a treatment (usually in emergency cases), then if the patient is considered a “mature minor,” they give consent themselves.
In situations of an unconscious patient, a patient experiencing impaired mental abilities (such as being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or condition or medication that affects a person’s judgement), or a person not really capable of making decisions for themselves, then informed consent is automatically granted to the care provider- whether they are a physician, nurse, EMT, etc. It is assumed that if the person had their cognitive capacities, they would consent to treatment. Another exception to informed consent exists if upon diagnosis a patient becomes extremely distraught and emotional with the information they have received. In emergency situations of emotional distress making a person unable to make sound decisions, the provider is allowed to do what they deem necessary to treat a patient (and in accordance with what other providers would also do).
Sometimes situations are not so clear cut and the courts end up giving the final decision on what was informed consent and what was not. An example of this is an emergency surgery being done on a patient for an ectopic pregnancy. Consent had been given for the procedure. Once the doctor had the patient open, it was discovered that a burst appendix was to blame for the patient’s acute pain and danger, not an ectopic pregnancy. The doctor removed the appendix without informed consent as he thought it in the patients best interests for survival. The patient sued the doctor for not obtaining informed consent for the appendectomy and lost. The doctor was considered to have done the correct thing as the patients life was in danger and obtaining informed consent might have cost the patient her life. Now if a doctor decided to remove an intact, non-infected appendix while being in the neighborhood and performing a consented gall bladder removal, then this could likely be a winnable case of a doctor not having informed consent for the appendectomy.
If treatment is initiated or performed without consent, it is considered assault and/or battery. Consent is a basic human right. Respect must always be given to a person, their body, and their privacy.
If you or a loved one were treated for a condition without informed consent, you may be eligible for damages. Call the Sweeney Law Firm and let our experts review the facts. You may have a valid lack of informed consent case. We work on a contingency fee basis, meaning we don’t get paid unless there is a settlement or a recovery of funds for you.