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Did I Waive my Rights When I Signed the Consent to Treatment?

We all fall ill from time to time.  It’s unavoidable. When you go to see a doctor, some form of treatment may be proposed.  Treatment can be as simple as a prescription for medication, or something more invasive like surgery.  In either case, it is you, not the doctor, who will decide what treatment you will receive.

No doctor may provide treatment to you unless you consent to that treatment. Sometimes, we disagree with the doctor’s advice.  You are entitled to do so because you have the right to decide what will or will not be done to your body. There are exceptions, of course.  In a medical emergency, a doctor may provide medical treatment if you are suffering from an imminent life-threatening condition, and you are unable to communicate your agreement to receive the treatment.  This might happen when you are unconscious. If there is an emergency situation, and a substitute decision maker is available (usually a close family member), the doctor must obtain consent from that person.  Even in that case, the doctor still try to ascertain if you expressed any wishes previously, and must abide by your known wishes.

What does it mean to consent to treatment?  Before you can consent to treatment, you must be informed about the treatment.  The doctor must explain the nature of the treatment, and tell you about the significant risks, the likely outcome, and any alternatives to the proposed treatment.  

Consenting to treatment does not mean you are giving up your right to sue the doctor if he or she is negligent in providing the treatment.

For example, if a doctor offers surgery as a treatment option, the doctor is expected to describe the procedure, and discuss the possible complications that could arise such as injury to internal organs or other nearby body structures, risk of bleeding, or risk of infection.   The doctor must also inform you about alternative treatments, and their risks and benefits.

The doctor might list the possible complications on a consent form for you to sign.  This does not mean, however, that should you suffer one of those complications, you have given up your legal rights.  The description of the possible complications is simply information you need to know before you agree to treatment. If you suffer a complication, it may be that nothing could have been done to avoid it, or it may mean the doctor made a mistake.  In either case, the signing of a consent form is not a waiver of your legal rights.

Hopefully, the upcoming holidays and the new year will hold no particular health concerns for you.  If you do need medical care, however, ask all the questions you need to understand any proposed treatment, and remember that the doctor is simply trying to inform you all about your treatment, not to restrict your legal rights.