Informed Consent and the Need for Understanding - Louise Austin
Teaching Room 12
Doorway 3 (01M.469)
Wed 20 November 2019
Mason Institute Lunch Seminar
Medical professional regulation (in the form of guidance issued by the General Medical Council) and medical law both see autonomy as underpinning the need for a doctor to seek a patient’s informed consent to surgery. Autonomy is an ethical concept and Beauchamp, in his works with Faden and Childress, offers a concept of autonomy that incorporates the need for patients to have an adequate understanding of information given to them in order to make an autonomous choice about treatment. The need for understanding is echoed in the regulatory and legal standards of informed consent which require doctors to disclose information in a manner comprehensible to the patient and to check patients have understood the information given.
However, my analysis of fitness to practice decisions and court judgements applying those standards demonstrates a reluctance on the part of tribunals and courts to compel doctors to check understanding, even in the face of an actual misunderstanding by the patient. Thus, whilst the regulatory and legal standards of informed consent are aimed at respecting patient autonomy, their application fails to do so as patients can make decisions about treatment without the requisite understanding. This paper asks, in light of those findings, should it be a requirement of informed consent that a doctor checks the patient understanding of information given and, if so, how far should the doctor go to meet that requirement?
Louise Austin is a Lecturer in Law at Cardiff University where she teaches Torts on the LLB undergraduate programme and Legal Aspects of Medical Practice on the LLM postgraduate programme.
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