Medics and nurses are guided by the Hippocratic Oath to exercise dutiful care for their patients. Due to its sensitive nature, medical profession has to be governed by a number of ethical and legal principles to ensure that it is carried out within a set framework of standards. The principle of Informed Consent was coined in the bid to protect patients and ensure their participation in the decisions concerning their bodies.
Informed consent according to Berg et al (2001, 3) refers “to legal rules that prescribe behaviors and other healthcare professionals in their interactions with patients and provide for penalties under given circumstances, if physicians deviate from those expectations. ” Indeed, informed consent is all about obtaining a patients consent in regard to a certain treatment procedure after having duly informed him or her of the consequences of such a procedure.
Mark and Frank (2005, 824) agree by defining informed consent as “the process of obtaining a clients permission to engage in various treatment and related activities. ” The issue of informed consent has become a subject of immense controversy pitting those who do not see it as a necessity on one hand and those that belief it is important if the rights of a patient are to be upheld. The position of this paper is that patients are entitled to be fully informed by the health professionals to help them in making a reasonable decision over a certain treatment or any related procedure.
According to the informed consent principles, medics are legally bound and expected to furnish their patients with information that is essential, in a language that the patient can easily grasp, so as to enable him or her make a decision in regard to a certain surgical procedure. For instance, should the patient be deaf the doctor is required to employ the services of an expert to ensure he understands the full implication of the surgery and append his or her signature.
Informed consent is mostly emphasized during surgery. Medical doctors have to discuss with their patients a wide range of issues related to the proposed treatment, elaborately describing the procedure to the full satisfaction of the patients. They also have to outline “the possible risks and benefits of the procedure, the reason for the, the probability of success and the consequences of non surgical treatment or no treatment. ” (Craven & Hirnle, 2006, 650)
A look at the principle of informed consent reveals that it is meant to safeguard the welfare of the patient by ensuring that doctors do not carry out procedures that he or she would have not wished for had he been duly informed of the consequences. Informed consent requirement outlines the various conditions that must be fulfilled for it to be valid. Its key emphasis is on competency. It is important to point out that patients may be undergoing various complications that negatively impair their judgments. Such impairments may range from mental illnesses and the Alzheimer’s disease amongst others.
In such instances, the law has provided for consent to be obtained from the next of kin, parents or their guardians in case the patient is a minor. At this time, doctors are not required to prescribe medications that may affect the reasoning capabilities of a patient. This is in the recognition of the fact that prior to a surgical operation for example; there is likelihood that preoperative drugs may have been administered. Such medications as Craven and Hirnle (2006, 650) observe, may “alter cognitive abilities and invalidate informed consent.
All these requirements are to the benefit of a patient, they are meant to ensure that a patient reached a fair decision in consideration of the recommendations as shared upon by the doctors in addition to his own assessment of the situation. It is emphasized that doctors are not to have an undue influence on the patients especially when consequences may be detrimental to the patient’s life. A further justification of informed consent is that it eradicates the possibility of a conflict of interest in the process of reaching a particular treatment decision.
A conflict of interest is likely to arise where doctors are compensated on service basis rather than on a standard fee arrangement. The prospects of financial gain are bound to influence some ones decision in regard to a particular issue. As Menikoff (2002) explicates, “a surgeon who is contemplating whether a patient with borderline vision needs a cataract surgery may be pushed over the line in recommending it when he thinks about his bank balance. ” (192). undeniably, financial motivation is a factor that is considered when carrying out various operations, ethics notwithstanding.
The principle of informed consent however steps in to ensure that patients are not exploited by fraudulent medics in search of a quick buck at the expense of their patients. The requirements of an informed consent ensure that treatment procedures are carried out purely for the welfare of the patient and not for the material gain of a medical practitioner. Apart from safeguarding the interests of the patients and giving him or her opportunity to contribute in the decision regarding his or her body, informed consent also protects those in the medical profession against liability.
Patients-doctor’s relationships are sometimes thawed by the allegations of negligence and malpractice from patients who decry that doctors sometimes carry out operations that are detrimental to their health. Informed consent steps in to arrest this by ensuring that patients or their next of kin, incase of the formers incapacitation, participate in making these decisions. Patients are also supposed to append their signatures to affirm their consent. This is an indication that they are fully aware of the treatment procedure to be carried out and also its implications.
To further protect the doctor from litigation if the patient is dissatisfied with the outcome, informed consent is supposed to be carried out in the presence of other medical professionals such as nurses and the resident doctor. This however is for the complicated operations such as heart and brain surgeries. In spite of the lofty benefits mentioned above, not everyone is convinced over the appropriateness of the informed consent. One such argument presented against informed consent is that it may lead to the patients making decisions that are deleterious to their well being.
As one physician observes, “the process of informed consent is not always in the patient’s best interest” (The Ethical Issue, 2004). This argument is based on the fear that patients sometimes may fail to consent to a certain procedure even when such a procedure is vital to their health. This is so especially when they are informed about the various risks of such a procedure. It is understandable that patients sometimes may shy away from making a particular decision in fear of the potential ramifications; this however should not be used as a reason to deny them the right to participate in decision making.
Another argument is based on the experience and skills possessed by doctors. Medics are strenuously trained and fully certified by the authority and hence should be given leeway to make informed decisions on behalf of their patients. They are well trained and patients should have confidence that their well being is being catered for. This argument holds water and indeed most patients trust that their doctors will make appropriate decisions in regard to their health.
However, this trust has been breached sometimes by incidents that have brought to the surface the negligence of some doctors. Such allegations put up strong justification for the need of informed consent. I t is apparent that the principle of informed consent is for the benefit of both the patient and the doctor. It upholds the right of the patient to participate in making the decision regarding his health. This prevents doctors from making their own arbitrary without consulting their patients; this is so when such decisions may be motivated by financial gains.
This principle also protects doctors from litigation should the outcome not be satisfactory to the patient. By appending his or her signature, the will have confirmed his knowledge of the possible ramifications of the treatment to be carried out. The doctor hence will not be liable for any negligence if it is established that he did not misinform the patient and that the patient appended his or her consent to the treatment procedure being fully aware of the possible out comes.