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Your right to informed consent

Created date

October 6th, 2017

The right to choose the direction of your medical care is a fundamental right of each and every adult who has decision-making capacity. In the medical field, your right to make decisions is affirmed through the informed consent process. If you have ever had surgery, you undoubtedly signed an informed consent form. This document essentially describes the surgical procedure and its risks and benefits. The concept of informed consent, however, has a much broader meaning. 

Informed consent is a legal principle and a process. In a nutshell, it means you have been given the proper information to choose among medically reasonable plans or treatments for your health care. 

Whenever you are facing a test, procedure, treatment, or surgery, you and your doctor should discuss your diagnosis, treatment options, and the risks and benefits of each option available to you. You should also be told about what may happen if you do not undergo the treatment. In addition, you should be fully informed about your prognosis, or projected outcome. 

If you are able to understand the relevant information, understand the consequences of whatever decision you make, and communicate your wishes, then you can participate in the process of informed consent. Having some form of cognitive impairment does not automatically preclude you from participating. Not being capable of making decisions in one area of your life, such as financial matters for instance, does not mean you cannot make health care decisions. 

In a medical emergency, informed consent is implied. If, however, you have a medical event or an accident and are unable to speak for yourself, informed consent can be granted by a health care proxy, if you have named one. This should be part of your advance directives.

Dealing with disagreements

Most of the time, the informed consent process goes smoothly. But what happens if you disagree with what your doctor recommends? You have the right to refuse a course of action, even if it means you might be harmed by your decision. In addition, disagreeing with your doctor or not following treatment recommendations does not rob you of your right to health care. Along that same line, informed consent does not mean you can request a treatment that your doctor may think is harmful. 

When you and your doctor disagree about something, find out more about the issue, so you can reach a decision that you both find acceptable. Tell your doctor more about your goals and values, so that he or she may be able to recommend another course of action more in line with what you want. You may also want to consider getting a second opinion. It often helps to get more than one physician’s perspective.

Remember that the decision you ultimately make should be based upon careful consideration and dialogue with your health care providers and those you hold close. Be active and engaged in the process and always make sure you are fully informed and consider all the options.