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The Ethical Principles of Informed Consent

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Before administering any sort of medical treatment, doctors have a legal responsibility to thoroughly explain the procedure and obtain the consent of the patient. Informed consent is based on a number of ethical principles the medical community adheres to with the ultimate goal of maintaining integrity, excellence and respect. Whether you are a doctor or patient, it is important to understand the full implications of informed consent.

Principle of Full Disclosure

Informed consent requires that the patient be made fully aware of his diagnosis, the nature of the treatment, the potential benefits and risks, alternative treatments and the potential benefits and risks of forgoing treatment. If the doctor omits any of this information, whether it be unintentional or purposeful, he has violated the patient's right to informed consent.

Principle of Respect for Autonomy

A doctor must acknowledge that each of his patients has the right to self-determination. This means that after receiving complete disclosure, the patient (or a guardian) has the right to accept or reject medical advice. Embracing individual freedom is one of the defining qualities of humanity.

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Principle of Respect for Persons

Health care providers must exhibit respect for their patients, regardless of their ability to make rational decisions. Even among individuals with a reduced ability for self-determination, the protections intended by and related to informed consent still apply. This includes the axiom that doctors should do no harm.

Principle of Subsidiarity

The principle of subsidiarity holds that a patient has a right to be involved in any and all medical decisions that affect them. This is foundational to the right of informed consent.

The Principle of Integrity and Totality

In treating their patients, doctors must take into account the overall well-being of their patient. This includes viewing every individual as a complete being with will, intellect and conscience. Failure to provide patients with informed consent reduces them to a collection of health issues, undermining their identity and humanity.

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