Liminal spaces in neurosurgery – tensions between expectations of the patient and their surgeon at the threshold of informed consent

Liminal spaces in neurosurgery – tensions between expectations of the patient and their surgeon at the threshold of informed consent
Original Article
Nicole C. Keong
British Journal of Neurosurgery, 19 January 2021
The concept of ‘liminality’, describing the universal human experience of transition in status, has been shown to be relevant in addressing the provision of healthcare needs within clinical medicine. Consent may be viewed as a threshold which patients must cross between a state of integration of information to a state of transformation into knowledge. This article reframes gaps in the modern surgical approach to the process of ‘informed consent’ via the lens of liminality, drawing on key illustrative cases from the medicolegal evolution in the UK and Commonwealth.
Materials and methods
A focused literature search was performed for informative medical legal cases addressing or contributing to the understanding of “informed consent”. Searches and references to sources of case law were performed using Westlaw and Hein Online databases. Searches for secondary sources for interpretation and discussions of case law and concepts, as well as topics of liminality and autonomy, were performed via PubMed and Academia databases and relevant online resources.
The paper organizes the illustrative material using the following approach: a discussion and dissection of the i) evolution of consent as a duty to warn, comprising a summary of landmark cases, ii) materiality of risks and what a particular patient would wish to know and iii) conceptual relevance of troublesome knowledge, relational autonomy and threshold concepts in learning to key examples in case law and the process of informed consent.
Modern surgical practice of informed consent must strive for clarity of mutual understanding. The framework of liminality allows us to understand the in-between states encountered during the patient’s journey. An ability to recognize such gaps in expectations, and develop tools to promote transformational learning, would allow the surgeon to evolve from prudent practitioner to patient mentor at the threshold of informed consent.

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