Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Observations Ethics Man

Update on the UK law on consent

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 16 March 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1481

Rapid Response:

New law on consent will burden the seriously ill with ‘information overload’

The honourable judges, who made the landmark decision, would have certainly spent considerable time and effort to rationally consider all available facts before reaching the apparently most logical conclusion. [1]. But unfortunately this judgement is going to burden majority of patients with ‘information overload’ for the sake of benefiting a minority of patients. In particular, patients diagnosed with serious illness such as cancer would be left more distressed as they are quite often not in a good physical or psychological state to logically and rationally analyse every bit of detailed information provided nor do they have the luxury of time.

Franz J. Ingelfinger, the former Editor of New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and a past president of American Gastroenterological Association died from complications of oesophageal cancer in 1980. Having dealt with countless manuscripts with vast amount of clinical trial data, one would have expected Dr Ingelfinger to be capable of logically and rationally analysing every bit of medical information. But as a patient with oesophageal cancer, Dr Ingelfinger was bewildered by information and opinions provided in good faith by various esteemed colleagues. As patient, he preferred a certain degree of paternalism from his physician to guide him through his treatment choices. [2][3].

The new law will inevitably lead to patients being given detailed information on relatively uncommon as well as rarer serious complications. Ordinary patients, who often have less clinical and statistical knowledge than Mr. Ingelfinger, would struggle to process this exhaustive information.

1 Sokol DK. Update on the UK law on consent. BMJ 2015;350:h1481–h1481. doi:10.1136/bmj.h1481
2 Ingelfinger FJ. Arrogance. N Engl J Med 1980;303:1507–11. doi:10.1056/NEJM198012253032604
3 Gillon R. Paternalism and medical ethics. Br Med J Clin Res Ed 1985;290:1971–2.

Competing interests: No competing interests

22 March 2015
Santhanam Sundar
Consultant Oncologist
Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust