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Analysis

Montgomery and informed consent: where are we now?

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j2224 (Published 12 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2224

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  1. Sarah W Chan, chancellor’s fellow1,
  2. Ed Tulloch, MBChB student2,
  3. E Sarah Cooper, consultant obstetrician3,
  4. Andrew Smith, QC4,
  5. Wojtek Wojcik, consultant liaison psychiatrist5,
  6. Jane E Norman, professor of maternal and fetal health and director of Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health 6
  1. 1Usher Institute for Population Health Sciences and Informatics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Edinburgh Medical School, University of Edinburgh
  3. 3Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh
  4. 4Compass Chambers, Edinburgh
  5. 5Department of Psychological Medicine, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh
  6. 6MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Edinburgh
  1. Correspondence to: SW Chan sarah.chan{at}ed.ac.uk
  • Accepted 5 May 2017

The Montgomery case in 2015 was a landmark for informed consent in the UK. Two years on, Sarah Chan and colleagues discuss the consequences for practising doctors

The Montgomery v Lanarkshire case of March 20151 drew fresh attention to informed consent. Nadine Montgomery, a woman with diabetes and of small stature, delivered her son vaginally; he experienced complications owing to shoulder dystocia, resulting in hypoxic insult with consequent cerebral palsy. Her obstetrician had not disclosed the increased risk of this complication in vaginal delivery, despite Montgomery asking if the baby’s size was a potential problem. Montgomery sued for negligence, arguing that, if she had known of the increased risk, she would have requested a caesarean section. The Supreme Court of the UK announced judgment in her favour in March 2015. The ruling overturned a previous decision by the House of Lords,2 which had been law since at least the mid 1980s.3 It established that, rather than being a matter for clinical judgment to be assessed by professional medical opinion, a patient should be told whatever they want to know, not what the doctor thinks they should be told.

Many organisations (in particular the General Medical Council, who intervened to make submissions in the case) said that the Montgomery decision had simply enabled UK law to catch up with current GMC guidance; others hailed it “the most important UK judgment on informed consent for 30 years.”4 Doctors have expressed their concerns about its potentially radical effects on patient care and clinical practice.5 We held a public debate in 2015, including doctors, lawyers, and medical students, which showed renewed tension between the professional discretion of doctors and patients’ choices6; indeed, the verdict has been characterised as supporting patient autonomy over medical paternalism.3 7 8 …

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