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How is consent different in an emergency?

Aug 16, 2019 | Consent, Firm News

A medical emergency is a terrifying experience. Your life hangs in the balance while you trust a team of medical professionals to help you at your most vulnerable time.

Even if you are conscious while the doctor is diagnosing you and explaining what should happen, it is difficult to comprehend everything going on. After years of medical school, the doctor may tell you what risks come with treatment, but that explanation may be hard to understand.

Here’s what you should know about informed consent in an emergency.

Emergencies are different

Of course, if you are unconscious, the medical staff in the emergency department will have to rely on the person who brought you to the ER to consent to your treatment. If you are alone, and unconscious doctors will use their best judgment.

When you are conscious, doctors have a higher expectation to tell you about the potential risks to the recommended treatment. Unlike a non-emergency, however, doctors have less obligation to give an exhaustive list of alternatives.

Going to great lengths

Some patients have thought about the possibility of a medical emergency and decided some measures are not worth it. Often, someone who does not want extreme interventions will get advanced directives, like a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR).

In some cases, people with an advanced directive will want a clear way to communicate they do not consent to certain procedures; even in an emergency. Some people will get medical alert bracelets or even a tattoo that expresses they do not agree to specific interventions. Unfortunately, a tattoo is typically not legally binding, and without a signed DNR order, some medical personnel will still assume consent for interventions like CPR and defibrillation.