With few exceptions, patients are required to give informed consent before being treated by a physician. Informed consent helps to ensure that patients are educated about their options and their treatment before they are subjected to procedures, medical intervention, medication and other critical aspects of their care.
When a physician fails to seek informed consent or compromises the information that a patient has access to when giving his or her informed consent and that patient is harmed as a result, that patient may be able to hold the negligent medical provider accountable in court. For example, when something important goes wrong during the birthing process that could have been prevented if the patient had been given proper access to information prior to giving her informed consent, that patient may have grounds for a legal case.
When no consent is given
There are times when informed consent is not required or cannot be obtained. For example, if a patient has been involved in a terrible accident, requires emergency care, is unconscious and his or her family cannot be reached to give their consent, that patient may be treated without consent. The logic behind this exception is essentially that a patient almost certainly would give consent for life-saving treatment if he or she had the ability to do so.
However, if a patient is capable of making his or her own medical decisions and is conscious, informed consent will generally be required before that patient will be given care that is not emergency-related.
When informed consent is compromised
Some of the most challenging situations for patients occur when physicians compromise the information that those patients require in order to make educated decisions about their care. Such critical information may be misleading, incomplete or completely omitted from the physician's communications. When this occurs and a patient is harmed as a result, the law generally protects the rights of the patient to hold negligent physicians accountable.
It is important to note that patients may not always know when they have been denied an opportunity to give truly informed consent. For example, mothers in labor are often confused or misled about their rights, options, alternatives and treatment. When they question their medical providers, they may be admonished or told that they have no choice.
As a result, it is important for mothers who believe that they may have been harmed due to incomplete informed consent to speak with attorneys experienced in the area of medical malpractice. These attorneys should be able to advise patients in regards to the particulars of their situations so that they can make educated decisions about their legal options.