Bell v Tavistock: Rethinking informed decision-making as the practical device of consent for medical treatment

Bell v Tavistock: Rethinking informed decision-making as the practical device of consent for medical treatment
Research Article
Abeezar I. Sarela
Clinical Ethics, 27 December 2021
The decision of the High Court in Bell v Tavistock has excited considerable discussion about lawful consent for puberty-blocking drug treatment for children with gender dysphoria. The present paper draws attention to a wider question that surfaces through this case: is informed decision-making an adequate practical tool for seeking and obtaining patients’ consent for medical treatment? Informed decision-making engages the premises of the rational choice theory: that people will have well-crystallised health goals; and, if they are provided with sufficient information about medical treatments, then they will be able to choose the treatment that satisfies their goals. Whilst appealing, the informed decision-making paradigm is assailed by various fallacies, which apply not only to children but also to adults. In Bell v Tavistock, the High Court seems to have recognised such fallacies, and it rejected informed decision-making as an adequate tool for consent from children with gender dysphoria. Similar considerations apply to adults in various situations. Thus, Bell v Tavistock can be seen as an attempt to refine the views on the consent that were expressed by the Supreme Court in Montgomery. It can be inferred that the Supreme Court did recognise the limitations of informed decision-making, but it did not develop this point. Further work is required to formulate an adequate model of decision-making, and Bell v Tavistock serves as a useful reminder to rethink informed decision-making as the device for consent.

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