Do we really know the law about students and patient consent?

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 01 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:522
  1. Alexander S J Shaw, fourth year medical student (
  1. Royal Free and University College Medical School, London

    It is difficult to understand medical law without an appreciation and full understanding of the scale and importance of consent. Through spending time on the wards and in the theatres, medical students learn the necessity and legal importance of consent. However, I wonder whether we truly know the laws of consent, and I go as far as to ask whether all doctors themselves do. It seems to me that the true breadth of the term consent is not fully appreciated and has become yet another automatism in the profession.

    Many situations arise where doctors and medical students are required to obtain consent. In clerking and performing procedures on conscious patients, it is obvious that we need to get informed consent. But at other times consent is neglected. We learn and seem to appreciate that without consent any procedure or examination is deemed as battery and assault—a prosecutable offence. Consent therefore legitimises an otherwise unlawful act. However, we …

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