The term consent to treatment refers to the voluntary agreement of a person to receive medical care, treatment, or services.
A healthcare professional must provide adequate treatment information and options so that the individual can make an educated decision. People have the right to refuse treatment and information. They can withdraw consent at any time.
Keep reading to learn more about consent to treatment, when it is not necessary, and how it applies to children, young people, and those on life support.
Consent to treatment is the agreement that an individual makes to receive medical treatment, care, or services, including tests and examinations. Anyone who can independently decide whether they want treatment must provide consent.
Consent is only valid if it is voluntary and informed and comes from an individual who is capable of consenting to treatment. Voluntary consent means that the person decides whether to consent to treatment. Healthcare professionals, friends, or family cannot influence or pressure the person to make a decision.
An individual must be capable of understanding the provided information and using it to make an educated decision regarding their consent to treatment.
Healthcare professionals have an ethical and legal obligation to disclose information related to various treatment options to help people make an informed choice. This includes the risks, possible outcomes, and alternative options, if they are available. Healthcare providers can provide information verbally or in writing. They may also provide audio or video materials.
Individuals can request information before all medical treatment. It is their responsibility to ask questions and ensure that they understand the information. They can also request treatment options that their doctor does not suggest.
People have the right to refuse part or all of the options for treatment. Healthcare professionals must respect the decision of the individual to consent to or refuse treatment, even if it could cause their death or the death of their unborn child.
Once a person gives consent, they have the right to change their mind and withdraw consent at any point, even if they have already started the treatment.
In certain cases, healthcare professionals can provide treatment to individuals who are not capable of consenting to treatment and do not have an appointed lasting power of attorney (LPA). They may do this if they think that the treatment is in the best interests of the person. When possible, the healthcare team will discuss the treatment options with the family or friends of the individual.
People who are aware that their capacity to consent will change in the future — for example, due to a degenerative health condition or learning disability — may decide to create a living will. This is a legal document that outlines which procedures and treatments a person refuses to undergo.
Individuals can make an LPA, which gives an appointed person the legal right to make medical decisions on their behalf. People can still indicate which treatments they want to refuse.
A capable person can provide consent to treatment in writing or in verbal or nonverbal ways.
Written consent involves completing and signing a consent form, which is a legal document that gives the doctor permission to proceed with the treatment. Consent forms ensure that doctors provide the appropriate information related to the medical condition and treatment options and that the individual selects their preferred option.
Nonverbal consent, sometimes called implied or implicit consent, includes gestures such as nodding the head, extending the arm for a blood test, or opening the mouth during a dental exam. Doctors may refer to verbal consent as explicit consent.
A person must give consent willingly and voluntarily for it to be valid. They must also be aware of the suggested treatment and understand why it is necessary. Other people may not persuade or pressure a person to consent to or refuse treatment.
Children under the age of 16 years can consent to treatment on their own if healthcare professionals decide that they have Gillick competence, which is the intelligence and capacity to understand fully what the treatment entails. Individuals without this ability require consent from a person with parental responsibility.
In most cases, young people aged 16 or 17 have the capacity to consent to treatment without acquiring consent from a person with parental responsibility.
However, a court or a person with parental responsibility can overrule the decision of a young person or child with Gillick competence to refuse medical care if doing so may cause death or a severe permanent injury.
If supportive treatments such as lung ventilation are keeping a person alive, and they did not specify which treatments they would refuse, the healthcare team must talk with the family and friends of the individual.
Together, they must decide on the continuation or cessation of treatment. They must base their decision on the best interests of the individual. They can consider the expected chance of recovery and quality of life of the person if they continue treatment. They can stop treatment if everyone agrees that this option is in the best interests of the individual.
Healthcare professionals do not require consent to treatment from an individual who is not able to make a decision on their own, although this is rare.
Situations that do not require consent for treatment may arise due to an emergency when a person is unconscious. In these types of cases, medical professionals can only provide the treatments necessary to keep a person alive and safe. When possible, healthcare professionals can discuss potential decisions with the family or friends of the individual.
People who do not have the mental capacity to comprehend the treatment choices are not able to give consent to treatment. In these cases, the healthcare team must make the decisions that best serve the interests of the individual.
Consent to treatment is an important and necessary part of medical treatment.
It means that a person must give authorization before they receive any type of treatment. This includes procedures such as surgery, tests, and medications. People must fully understand what they are agreeing to and ask questions as necessary.
Healthcare professionals are legally and ethically responsible for providing information regarding the treatment options and potential outcomes.
An individual must be capable of making a voluntary and informed decision regarding consent to treatment. They have the right to refuse treatment, request alternative treatment, or withdraw consent at any time.