Patient Information and Consent for Care in the Intensive Care Unit

Patient Information and Consent for Care in the Intensive Care Unit
Jean-Philippe Rigaud, Fiona Ecarnot, Jean-Pierre Quenot
Healthcare, 27 February 2023; 11(5)
In this paper, we review the ethical issues involved in providing information to, and obtaining consent (for treatment and/or research) from patients in the intensive care unit. We first review the ethical obligations of the physician in treating patients, who are by definition, vulnerable, and often unable to assert their autonomy during situations of critical illness. Providing clear and transparent information to the patient about treatment options or research opportunities is an ethical and, in some cases, legal obligation for the physicians, but may be rendered difficult, not to say impossible in the intensive care unit by the patient’s health state. In this context, we review the specificities of intensive care with respect to information and consent. We discuss who the right contact person is in the ICU setting, with possible choices including a surrogate decision maker, or a member of the family, in the absence of an officially designated surrogate. We further review the specific considerations relating to the family of critically ill patients, and the amount and type of information that may be given to them without breaching the tenets of medical confidentiality. Finally, we discuss the specific cases of consent to research, and patients who refuse care.

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