Informed consent: patient's right or patient's duty?

J Med Philos. 1985 May;10(2):183-97. doi: 10.1093/jmp/10.2.183.


The rule that a patient should give a free, fully-informed consent to any therapeutic intervention is traditionally thought to express merely a right of the patient against the physician, and a duty of the physician towards the patient. On this view, the patient may waive that right with impunity, a fact sometimes expressed in the notion of a right not to know. This paper argues that the rule also expresses a duty of the patient towards the physician and a right of the physician against the patient. The argument turns, first, on the truism that a physician has no obligation to commit a battery, or unauthorized touching, and, second, on the thesis that a patient necessarily cannot consent to something that is unknown to him. The conclusion is drawn that a patient is not free to receive treatment voluntarily without knowledgeably authorizing it.

KIE: Ethical discussions that focus on informed consent as a patient's right are faulted for overlooking a concomitant patient responsibility knowledgeably to authorize treatment. Building on the premises that a physician cannot have an obligation to commit battery, i.e., an unauthorized touching, and that a patient cannot validly consent to something unknown, the author argues that the patient has a duty to consent to treatment and to know the precedented risks and benefits of the selected treatment and of alternative treatments.

MeSH terms

  • Comprehension
  • Disclosure
  • Ethical Analysis*
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent*
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Patient Advocacy*
  • Patient Compliance
  • Patient Rights
  • Patients*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Risk Assessment