Mass. Case Highlights Issue of Informed Consent in Medical Procedures

Doctors have a duty to inform their patients of the risks involved in procedures to be performed by medical staff. Typically, a patient will sign an informed consent form and have an opportunity to ask questions and discuss with the physician risks and alternatives to a procedure. If a patient is denied this information, or if a physician fails to disclose enough of it, and the patient is harmed because of the medical procedure, the patient may have a medical malpractice claim.

Recently in Massachusetts, Tessa Savicki, who had asked her physician at Baystate Medical Center to fit her with an intra-uterine device for contraception, awoke from surgery to find that her tubes had been tied instead. According to Savicki, the medical staff did not have her consent to perform the procedure, which has left her sterile.

Massachusetts Informed Consent Law

According to Massachusetts precedent - the 1982 case of Harnish v. Children's Hospital - a doctor has the duty to provide a patient with all the information that would reasonably be necessary for the patient to make an intelligent decision about whether to undergo a procedure. The doctor's duty is limited, however, due to the fact that it would be impossible to disclose every possible risk.

It is important to note that doctors need to go beyond the medical information that is casually discussed. The standard before any procedure is to disclose reasonable information that would help patients decide whether a procedure is right for them.

Informed consent, however, is sometimes unnecessary. For example, in an emergency situation it is not always possible to obtain informed consent before administering potentially life-saving medical care. In these situations, it is assumed that the patient would consent to the care. Another example is a patient who is so emotionally fragile that care will almost certainly be refused, putting the patient's life or well-being at great risk.

The Reasoning Behind the Law

The basic reasoning for requiring informed consent is that a patient has a right to understand the risks and benefits of the procedure being considered. Because most patients are not medical experts, their physician is their primary source of information in this regard. Without this information, a patient is unable to make an informed decision about undergoing the procedure. If a patient was not given information that may have caused him or her to decide against a procedure, a medical malpractice claim could be a proper course.

If you or a loved one has been harmed due to a lack of informed consent, speak with a medical malpractice attorney who will advise you of your rights.