Observations Ethics Man

Defending the sophisticated consent attack

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g6432 (Published 28 October 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6432
  1. Daniel K Sokol, barrister and medical ethicist, 12 King’s Bench Walk, London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}talk21.com

What can doctors do to protect themselves against allegations that they failed when obtaining consent to ensure that the patient understood information?

A few weeks ago I spoke on the subject of consent to solicitors who represent claimants in clinical negligence cases. I encouraged them to consider the possibility of invalid consent at the outset of a claim rather than as an afterthought. I told them that I had infiltrated enemy lines, into the trenches that are hospital wards and GP surgeries, and discovered that there is a gap between the lofty ideal of consent, as reflected in the guidance of the General Medical Council and the law, and the gritty reality on the front line.

The next week I gave a talk on consent to clinicians and, as an act of atonement, advised them on how to defend themselves against the very attacks I revealed to the lawyers. There is one sophisticated attack of which readers should be aware.

Not enough just to impart information

When seeking consent, it is not enough for doctors to warn a patient …

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