The direct definition of informed consent will vary from state to state. It is a rule that is governed by the statutes of each state. A general definition of informed consent encompasses the idea that a doctor is not allowed to perform a risky procedure on a patient without fully explaining the risks of the procedure and gaining their permission or consent before proceeding. In the event of an emergency or unconsciousness, consent is always implied under the law.
In Florida, informed consent requires doctors to:
- Provide the nature of the procedure and what it intends to correct
- Explain fully the risks associated with that procedure
- Offer alternatives to the procedure and their accepted outcomes, including the “do-nothing” option if an alternative is not available
If, after having the above three conditions explained to them the patient agrees to treatment, then and only then has informed consent occurred.
Many people wrongly believe that when they sign a document allowing treatment that informed consent occurred. This is not necessarily true. This document may be used as evidence that informed consent may have occurred, but it does not prove that it has occurred. The form could have been signed when the patient was heavily medicated, under duress, or simply without understanding what they were signing. The patient may not have been informed of what was going to take place, therefore nullifying informed consent.
In Florida, there is also a second part to the informed consent statute regarding lawsuits based on informed consent alone. When a doctor is sued for failure to gain consent, the jury is instructed that if there is reason to believe that the patient still would have given consent for the procedure had they been informed, they must rule in favor of the doctor.