Consent and Ethics: Adults

Published: 13/08/2019

Adults with capacity

When a doctor intends to undertake any intervention a conscious patient must grant permission prior to examination, investigation and treatment. An intervention (including physical contact) undertaken without agreement/consent may constitutes a 'battery'. This underlying principal is as important in all aspects of anaesthetic and intensive care practice as it is for operative surgery (or any branch of medicine). While many general principles apply and must be understood, there is specific guidance relating directly to the provision of anaesthesia (see the Association of Anaesthetists consent for anaesthesia guidance). Where the person subject to this contact is made fearful by it occurring it is technically possible that this can constitute an 'assault'. Assault is a rare charge in medical practice, and in practice the potential for an accusation of battery is more common.

To prevent a course of action being construed as a battery, a doctor should always provide a broad description of the activity they are about to undertake and seek agreement from the patient. This is also a responsibility within good medical practice. Documentation of this process is particularly important but in medical practice varies according to the perceived risk of the intervention.

For consent to be valid it must be:

  1. voluntary
  2. informed
  3. given by a competent patient with capacity.

Please see our Adult Definitions and Distinctions page for further information.