A lawsuit we filed recently highlights the dangers of not obtaining a patient’s informed consent. There, after a small procedure had already proved successful in removing a cancerous tumor from the patient’s rectum, the surgeon convinced the patient to undergo an unnecessary – and expensive – major surgery to remove much of the bowel. The doctor did not inform the patient he did not actually need the surgery.

After the surgeon mismanaged post-operative complications, the patient went into septic shock and died. Besides the medical errors that directly led to the patient’s death, the root problem was the doctor’s egregious failure to obtain the patient’s informed consent.

But what is “informed consent”? The principle consists of two interrelated elements.

First, the patient must “consent” to the proposed intervention—that is, the patient must knowingly, freely, and voluntarily authorize the intervention.

Second, the doctor must “inform” the patient. According to the American Medical Association, a doctor must inform the patient of “(i) the diagnosis when known, (ii) the nature and purpose of the recommended interventions, (iii) the burdens, risks, and expected benefits of all options, including foregoing treatment.” Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 2.1.1 (emphasis added). Without this information, a patient cannot be truly “informed,” and therefore cannot give “informed consent,” even if the patient signs a consent form authorizing the doctor to proceed.

So how did the surgeon in our case fail to obtain informed consent? The surgeon failed to inform the patient that his cancer was already removed and that he therefore did not need the surgery the surgeon was recommending. With that information, the patient would have rejected the surgeon’s recommendation. In fact, no patient in his or her right mind would consent to an unnecessary surgery. While the patient signed a consent form, the “consent” was ineffective because the doctor breached his legal and ethical duties to obtain the patient’s informed consent.

If you would like to read more about this case, please click here.

Bell Law Firm represents clients who have suffered death or catastrophic injury in medical malpractice and other personal injury cases.