Consent in organ transplantation: putting legal obligations and guidelines into practice

Consent in organ transplantation: putting legal obligations and guidelines into practice
Farrah Raza, James Neuberger
BMC Medical Ethics volume, 5 July 2022; 23(69)
Open Access
Consent in medical practice is a process riddled with layers of complexities. To some extent, this is inevitable given that different medical conditions raise different sets of issues for doctors and patients. Informed consent and risk assessment are highly significant public health issues that have become even more prominent during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. In this article we identity relevant factors for clinicians to consider when ensuring consent for solid organ transplantation. Consent to undergo solid organ transplantation is more complex than most surgical and other clinical interventions because of the many factors involved, the complexity of the options and the need to balance competing risks. We first outline the context in which consent is given by the patient. We then outline the legal principles pertaining to consent in medical practice as it applies in the UK and the implication of recent legal judgments. The third section highlights specific complexities of consent in organ transplantation and identifies relevant factors in determining consent for organ transplantation. The fourth section offers practical recommendations. We propose a novel ‘multi-factor approach’ to informed consent in transplantation which includes understanding risk, effective communication, and robust review processes. Whilst understanding risk and communication are a given, our suggestion is that including review processes into the consent process is essential. By this we specifically mean identifying and creating room for discretion in decision-making to better ensure that informed consent is given in practice. Discretion implies that health care professionals use their judgement to use the legal judgements as guidance rather than prescriptive. Discretion is further defined by identifying the relevant options and scope of clinical and personal factors in specified transplantation decisions. In particular, we also highlight the need to pay attention to the institutional dimension in the consent process. To that end, our recommendations identify a gap in the current approaches to consent. The identification of areas of discretion in decision-making processes is essential for determining when patients need to be involved. In other words, clinicians and healthcare professionals need to consider carefully when there is room for direction and where there is little or no room for exercising discretion. In sum, our proposed approach is a modest contribution to the on-going debate about consent in medicine.

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