Ethics & law
Why should people have the right to make their own choices?
If there is a single ethical principle that students learn at medical school, the chances are it is the requirement to respect the autonomy of patients. This principle finds its clinical expression in the obligation to seek informed consent.
Respecting patient autonomy means that doctors have a duty to provide competent patients with the opportunity to make an informed decision about their medical treatment. This principle, and its practical expression in consent, is strongly defended in law. Failure by a doctor to properly provide the conditions for the patient to make an informed choice could lead to prosecution for battery, although such cases are rare. It is likely that the potential legal consequences of not respecting informed choices are drummed into future doctors just as much as the moral ones.
The rise in the importance of the need to seek informed consent is linked to the desire of both doctors