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Mason and McCall Smith's Law and Medical Ethics

Mason and McCall Smith's Law and Medical Ethics (12th edn)

Anne-Maree Farrell and Edward S. Dove
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date: 26 February 2024

p. 2188. Consent to Medical Treatmentlocked

p. 2188. Consent to Medical Treatmentlocked

  • A. M. FarrellA. M. FarrellChair of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh
  •  and E. S. DoveE. S. DoveReader in Health Law and Regulation at the University of Edinburgh


This chapter explores the nature of consent to medical treatment for adults (primarily those with capacity), as well as its flipside, refusal of medical treatment. We begin by focusing on the function of consent and the consequences for failing to obtain it. We then consider what constitutes informed consent for the purposes of medical treatment, and the nature of information which must be disclosed to a patient to secure this. Finally, we discuss circumstances where medical treatment may proceed even in the absence of consent. As part of this, the chapter traces the history of ‘informed consent’ from the American case of Salgo (1957) through and beyond the foundational UK Supreme Court case of Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board (2015), which sets out legal rules on the disclosure of risks to satisfy the criteria of an informed consent for medical treatment. We discuss how patient autonomy and exercise of choice is now a common theme in relevant case law, and professional guidance increasingly emphasises shared decision making for treatment decisions. Nevertheless, the law still places hurdles in the path of individuals seeking to exercise their autonomy, and vestiges of Bolam (1957) remain, particularly in relation to medical advice concerning the risks associated with treatment.

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