Education And Debate

Ethical Debate: Legal issues

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 08 July 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:116
  1. Petra Wilson, lecturer in lawa
  1. aDepartment of Law, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD

    It is well established in law that people should have sovereignty over their bodies: “The fundamental principle, plain and incontestable, is that every person's body is inviolate.”1 Thus, simply laying a hand on another person without his or her consent may result in an action for battery. A health care practitioner is therefore under a duty to obtain a patient's consent before any treatment commences. Furthermore, any competent adult may refuse to give such consent, however beneficial or necessary the treatment may be: “An adult whose mental capacity is unimpaired has the right to decide for herself whether she will or will not receive medical or surgical treatment, even in circumstances where she is likely or even certain to die in the absence of treatment.”2

    The legal …

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