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July 15, 1974

The Confusing Law of Informed Consent

Author Affiliations

Legal Department

JAMA. 1974;229(3):325. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230410049028

A physician seeking specific guidance on what information he or she should give a patient to obtain "informed consent" for a particular medical or surgical procedure is confronted by legal confusion. There are at least 17 different rules of law on the question, each of which applies in one or more states.1 A few states have not, as yet, adopted any rules of law on the subject.

Any physician who undertakes the medical care of a patient unavoidably assumes certain legal risks. He may be held liable for an injury to the patient for any one or more of various reasons. The legal risk arising from lack of "informed consent" is only one of those reasons. No physician can eliminate all legal risks. At most, he can minimize those risks by exercising his professional judgment and discretion. Whatever legal risks remain, he must accept them if he is to