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What Is Informed Consent?

My son is having surgery in a few weeks. The nurses gave us educational materials to learn more about it, in preparation for something called "informed consent." What does this mean?
– Ned

Informed consent is a legal term. It means that you are fully aware of the facts of a situation (in this case, a surgical procedure) before agreeing to it. Other situations that need informed consent include blood transfusions, anesthesia, and vaccines.

To get your informed consent, the doctor will discuss with you things such as:

  • your child's diagnosis
  • details about the procedure or treatment, and why it's recommended
  • the risks and benefits involved
  • any possible alternative treatments
  • the risks and benefits of any alternatives
  • the risks and benefits of NOT undergoing the treatment or procedure

It is the doctor's responsibility to make sure you understand the medical problem and treatment. During the discussion, you can ask questions. This is your right and responsibility — and there's no such thing as a silly question. You'll be asked to sign a written consent form before the surgery. If you can't be there to sign the form, you'll be contacted by phone to give your consent.

In rare emergencies, a parent might be unavailable to give consent for a treatment for a young child — for example, if an unconscious patient comes into the ER. Then, doctors apply the principle of "presumed"or "implied" consent, using their professional judgment to do what is best for the child.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: November 2019