The legal interests of persons who submit to medical treatment. For many years, common medical practice meant that physicians made decisions for their patients. This paternalistic view has gradually been supplanted by one promoting patient autonomy, whereby patients and doctors share the decision-making responsibility. Consequently doctor-patient relationships are very different now than they were just a few decades ago. However, conflicts still abound as the medical community and those it serves struggle to define their respective roles. Consent
Consent, particularly informed consent, is the cornerstone of patients' rights. Consent is based on the inviolability of one's person. It means that doctors do not have the right to touch or treat a patient without that patient's approval because the patient is the one who must live with the consequences and deal with any dis-comfort caused by treatment. A doctor can be held liable for committing a Battery if the doctor touches the patient without first obtaining the patient's consent. The shift in doctor-patient relationships seems inevitable in hindsight. In one early consent case, a doctor told a woman he would only be repairing some cervical and rectal tears; instead he performed a hysterectomy. In another case, a patient permitted her doctors to examine her under anesthesia but insisted that they not operate; the doctors removed a fibroid tumor during the procedure. In yet another case, a doctor assured a man that a proposed operation was simple and essentially without risk; the patient's left hand was paralyzed as a result of the surgery. Consent must be voluntary, competent, and informed. Voluntary means that, when the patient gives consent, he or she is free from extreme duress and is not intoxicated or under the influence of medication and that the doctor has not coerced the patient into giving consent. The law presumes that an adult is competent, but competency may be an issue in numerous instances. Competence is typically only challenged when a patient disagrees with a doctor's recommended treatment or refuses treatment altogether. If an individual understands the information presented regarding treatment, she or he is competent to consent to or refuse treatment. Consent can be given verbally, in writing, or by one's actions. For example, a person has consented to a vaccination if she stands in line with others who are receiving vaccinations, observes the procedure, and then presents her arm to a healthcare provider. Consent is inferred in cases of emergency or unanticipated circumstances. For example, if unforeseen serious or life-threatening circumstances develop during surgery for which consent has been given, consent is inferred to allow doctors to take immediate further action to prevent serious injury or death. Consent is also inferred when an adult or child is found unconscious, or when an emergency otherwise necessitates immediate treatment to prevent serious harm or death. Consent is not valid if the patient does not understand its meaning or if a patient has been misled. Children typically may not give consent; instead a parent or guardian must consent to medical treatment. Competency issues may arise with mentally ill individuals or those who have diminished mental capacity due to retardation or other problems. However, the fact that someone suffers from a mental illness or diminished mental capacity does not mean that the individual is incompetent. Depending on the type and severity of the disability, the patient may still have the ability to understand a proposed course of treatment. For example, in recent years most jurisdictions have recognized the right of hospitalized mental patients to refuse medication under certain circumstances. Numerous courts have ruled that a mental patient may have the right to refuse antipsychotic drugs, which can produce disturbing side effects. If a patient is incompetent, technically only a legally appointed guardian can...
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