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Informed Consent

What does informed consent mean? You have the right to be told the major risks of any treatment or therapy and the availability of significant alternatives. The exact information required to be disclosed in a given situation will generally be determined by the usual prudent and reasonable standard of disclosure in the medical community.

May information be withheld from a patient? You have the right to be fully informed about your medical care. There are situations where the law may allow information to be withheld, such as when, in the physician's professional opinion, such disclosure would cause severe harm to the patient.

What should I do if I suspect that information is being kept from me? You should tell your physician that you want to be fully informed about your condition. You should put this request in writing, giving the physician a copy, and keep one for yourself. You should consult with an attorney if you feel this does not solve the problem.

May I decline to be informed about my condition, or the risks of treatment? Yes, but you should put this is writing because your physician is legally required to inform you and needs proof that you decline this information.

May an adult refuse treatment, even if this means certain death? Yes. You may refuse any treatment, although the physician or hospital may ask the court to intervene. The courts have shown a strong tendency in favor of taking all steps necessary to preserve human life and will often direct treatment when a patient refuses. The right to refuse treatment is very important for certain religious groups. If you plan to refuse some or all medical care, you should fill out a form explaining this before you need care, preferably with the advice of an attorney.

May a minor refuse care? Only when the minor falls into one of the categories (described above) allowing consent by a minor. However, an older minor may have the ability to veto some care that could have a severe impact, such as a therapeutic hysterectomy for a 16-year-old minor.

What if a minor and the minor's parent or guardian disagree over nonemergency care? If the minor falls into one of the exempt categories, the minor may refuse care even if a parent or guardian requests the care. If the health care provider has any doubts about the minor's capacity to consent, a court ruling should be obtained.

May medical care be rendered without a valid consent? Medical care may be rendered without a valid consent only in emergency situations, or when a child is apparently the victim of neglect or abuse.

What recourse is there if I am being treated without proper consent? You should bring this to the attention of your physician with a written complaint, stating clearly that you do not consent to such treatment. You should keep a copy of this complaint for yourself. If this does not remedy the situation, you should consult with a lawyer.

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