Legal and ethical considerations of informed consent

AORN J. 1997 Jun;65(6):1122-7. doi: 10.1016/s0001-2092(06)62955-4.


The law of informed consent remains ineffective at resolving patient comprehension issues primarily because differing interpretations exist regarding who is responsible for the duty to inform. Court cases continue to set precedents for practicing physicians and other health care providers; however, other measures can be applied for effectual patient advocacy. Health care personnel should rewrite typical consent forms in simpler terms, use larger print, and create duplicate copies. If patients are given copies of the permits they sign, the can reread the forms at home when they are more comfortable. For true autonomy to exist in informed consent for surgical procedures, consent forms should contain patients' primary languages whenever possible, or an adequate interpreter should be made available. Surgeons, nurses, and other health care providers must become aware of their responsibilities related to informed consent for treatment. It is necessary for health care personnel to develop and use effective communication techniques and remember that although some patients are more visually attuned to new information, other patients may benefit more from listening or reading. The cases in this article show that a patient's autonomy is part of the informed consent process and the duty to inform the patient lies with the person performing the procedure. A more important issue, however, involves the patient's comprehension of the information given, because without it, the patient cannot achieve true autonomy in making decisions. Ensuring that all elements of informed consent are met to obtain informed consent will result in fewer malpractice claims, greater patient satisfaction, and an improved professional image. Nevertheless, nurses should make themselves aware of the state laws in which they practice, including their nurse practice acts. They then should advocate for patient rights by encompassing all elements of informed consent.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • United States