COVID-19 and its impact on informed consent: What should health professionals tell their patients or their proxies?

COVID-19 and its impact on informed consent: What should health professionals tell their patients or their proxies?
D J McQuoid-Mason
South African Journal of Bioethics Law, 13 May 2020; 13(1)
Open Access
Abstract
Given the increasing number of ethical and legal issues arising from the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on informed consent by patients, it is necessary for health professionals to explain to patients how the measures taken to combat the spread of the virus impact on their right to give informed consent. Patients need to be reassured that wherever possible, health professionals are ethically bound to obtain informed consent from patients before they subject them to diagnostic testing and treatment, but at the same time, have to comply with the demands of the law. While the South African Constitution, statutory law and the common law all recognise a person’s right to consent before being subjected to treatment or surgical operations, it is necessary to take remedial steps, because of the dangers of spreading the potentially fatal COVID-19 virus, to prevent this. Such steps may involve compelling patients to be screened, tested and treated – sometimes without their consent. Guidance is given to healthcare professionals on how they should counsel their patients, and what they should tell patients about the impact of the COVID-19 regulations on healthcare professionals’ ethical and legal duties regarding the obtaining of informed consent, as well as on whether, if asked, employers can compel their employees to undergo testing without consent, and what to tell patients about this.

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