Intended for healthcare professionals


Consent for blood transfusion

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 24 August 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4336
  1. Anne-Maree Farrell, senior lecturer in law,
  2. Margaret Brazier, professor of law
  1. 1Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, Institute for Science Ethics and Innovation, School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL
  1. Correspondence to: A M Farrell a.m.farrell{at}
  • Accepted 6 June 2010

Millions of people receive blood transfusions each year, but many will not be fully aware of the risks. Anne-Maree Farrell and Margaret Brazier argue for a formalised consent procedure

Within transfusion medicine, the question of whether separate informed consent should be obtained from patients for blood transfusion has provoked considerable debate. There has long been support for such an approach in the United States.1 A BMJ editorial in 1997 made it clear that reform was on the professional agenda in the United Kingdom, despite the established position that obtaining general consent for medical treatment included consent for blood transfusion.2 At the time, however, professional consensus proved elusive because of concerns over a range of practical problems, including who should be responsible for obtaining such consent and in what circumstances it should be obtained.3 The issue has now been brought to the fore again, highlighted by the recent stakeholder consultation launched by the UK government’s independent Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs.

In its consultation document, the committee acknowledged that practice on obtaining consent for transfusion of blood components is inconsistent across the UK. In addition, it highlighted several concerns including whether patients are being given information on risks, benefits, and alternatives to transfusion, as well as being informed of their right to refuse transfusion.4 We echo the committee’s concerns. Although current advice states that there is no legal requirement to obtain formal consent from the patient for transfusing blood components,5 we question the basis of such advice and its continuing legal probity.

Informing patients about blood transfusion

In the past, many patients, and their general practitioners, were unaware that they had received blood transfusions during medical treatment.6 Few published data exist on patient concerns about blood transfusion in the UK, but several small studies …

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