A major and important aspect of medical practice which has been a cause of
action in several litigations is that a doctor has administered treatment or
performed a procedure or investigation without consent or consent taken was
invalid. This aspect of medical practice, which is considered routine by
doctors, has been subject matter of judicial scrutiny in quite of a few
medical malpractice cases as it involves the individual right of a patient
on one hand and the duty of a doctor to take due care of his patient. Hence
it is of paramount importance that correct and proper consent should be
obtained by a doctor before proceeding to perform any Investigation or
Under Section 13 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, "Consent" is defined and
states that two or more persons are said to consent when they agree to the
same thing in the same sense. The above language, on the face of it is more
judicial or expository than a legislative kind. A doctors relation with a
patient is contractual. One of the essential features for creation of a
valid contract is consent i.e. an agreement to do the same thing in the same
sense. Therefore, if one party to the contract is misled or has entered
into it in a different sense to that in which it ought to have been
understood then it would not be construed as a valid contract.
In order to enter into a valid contract the person should be competent to do
so. Section 11 of the Contract Act stipulates that every person who is of
age of majority and is of sound mind and is not disqualified to contracting
by any law to which he is subject is competent to contract.
The Indian Majority Act, 1875 declares that every person domiciled in India
shall be deemed to have attained majority when he has completed 18 years of
age. Thus a person who is 18 years of age and above, who is mentally sound
and conscious is competent to contract. In the case of a minor the parents
of the minor, being the natural guardian or a guardian appointed by a Court
shall be the person competent to contract for and on behalf of the minor.
Under Criminal Law the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in Chapter IV has set out
general exceptions to an offence. Section 89 stipulates that an act done in
good faith for benefit of a person under 12 years of age or of un-sound mind
by consent either express or implied by the guardian or other person having
lawful charge is not an offence by reason of any harm. The aforesaid
exception is not available if there is an intention to cause death or
grievous hurt. Section 90 of the said Code further stipulates that a
consent given under fear of injury or mis-conception of fact would not be a
valid consent under the Code.
The fact that a patient comes to a doctor for treatment of an ailment
implies that he is agreeable to medical examination in the general sense.
This is implied consent and would encompass physical examination (not
intimate examination), palpation, percussion, auscultation and routine
sonography. IMPLIED CONSENT (TACIT CONSENT) is the most common variety and
is generally accepted in the practice of a family physician or consultant
who generally prescribes medicines after nothing the history of the patient
and physical examination.
For other major diagnostic/therapeutic procedure such as lumbar puncture,
radiology endoscopy, laser treatment, dye- induced tests, CLW suturing,
FNAC, I/D of abscess, CT Scan, MRI, etc. EXPRESS WRITTEN CONSENT should be
obtained. It is advisable that Written Consent should be obtained in
presence of a dis-interested 3rd party. Consent should be taken in the
patients own language and it is vital that if the patient is incapable of
giving Consent, then Consent of guardian or person in lawful charge of him
should be taken. Many a times in gynecological cases it is observed that a
gynecologist takes the consent of the husband and proceeds to perform
procedure on the wife. In the event of marital disharmony the doctor is
put to tremendous harassment, as variety of charges including charge of
being an accessory to killing the baby, pre-leveled against the Doctor. It
is, therefore, advisable to ensure that Written Consent of the patient is
INFORMED CONSENT is a part of the physicians duty to disclosure, however,
this duty has an exception. In the event, the physician is of a considered
opinion that, the patient is in a highly disturbed condition or so anxious
that the information given would not be processed rationally or that it
would only cause significant psychological harm then the doctor may choose
not to inform the patient about the treatment or procedure. The other
exception is where the patient prefers not to be informed. These exceptions
are known as "Therapeutic Privilege".
A word of caution would be in order and a physician seeking to exercise
Therapeutic Privilege would be well advised to discuss the matter with the
family physician of the patient. It is well known that revelation of the
risk may frighten off the patient from beneficial treatment but at the same
time the patient has a valuable right of benefit of reasonable information.
In such an event a fine balance ought to be struck and law always values the
judgment and opinion of the treating physician and would examine it on the
anvil of the condition and circumstances of the patient at the time when the
treatment was being administered or procedure/investigation performed.
The three vital components of Informed Consent are, (i) the capacity of the
patient to contract, (ii) complete information in comprehensive terms and
(iii) voluntary acceptance of the patient to undergo treatment or procedure
as prescribed. Informed Consent is always advisable where surgery is major,
planned and performed on a non-emergency basis. In case Informed Consent is
obtained then in case of a medical mishap the doctor has a better defence
and Courts generally have taken a view that where the patient underwent the
surgery with full knowledge of attendant risk the doctor cannot be held
liable. A recent study of reported cases under the Consumer Protection Act,
1986 filed against doctors it is noticed that in 16 cases one of the
allegation, amongst others, was of lack of consent or invalid consent. In
four of the aforesaid cases there was no dispute that consent was not taken
and that the doctor had administered treatment or performed procedure
without consent and was found liable for damages. In three cases though
consent was obtained the same was held to be invalid on the basis of
evidence adduced before the Commission. However, in 9 cases where consent
was taken the same was held to be valid and the complaint was dismissed and
in one of the cases cost was awarded in favour of the doctor as the
procedures have been performed after obtaining Informed Consent. It is,
therefore, very important to ensure that the patient, in a complicated case
and where surgery is planned, has thoroughly understood the procedure which
a doctor intends to perform upon him.
In case of Medical Emergency consent need not be obtained, the well being in
the patient is paramount and hence medical rather than legal consideration
shall prevail. In fact Section 92 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
specifically declares that nothing is an offence by reason of any harm which
it may cause to a person for whose benefit the act is done in good faith
even without that person's consent if the circumstances are such that it is
impossible for that person to signify consent or if that person is incapable
of giving consent and has no guardian or other person in lawful charge of
him from whom it is possible to obtain Consent in time for the thing to be
done for his benefit. Law, therefore, expressly declares that an act done
in an emergency will not be called in question for want of consent. In
other words emergency ratifies an act done for the benefit of a person even
in absence of a consent.
Besides Medical Emergencies the other situations where consent need not be
obtained are when
- A person is suffering from not if able diseases
- New admissions to prisons
- Examination under Court Order - especially to
ascertain mental condition of the person ordered to be
- Request by a police officer under Cr.P.C. Section
- Members of Armed Forces.
- Persons handling food or dairy products
In case of failure to obtain proper consent a doctor would be open to charge
of battery. Besides being liable for civil action for damages for performing
a procedure or investigation without consent of the individual concerned.
A leading case where for want of proper consent the Court held that the
action of the doctor amounted to battery andawarded damages in favour of
the patient and against the doctor was Bailey vs. Belinfante which is
A patient was referred by his dentist to an oral surgeon. While waiting in
the waiting room, and before even seeing the surgeon, he was given a
surgical consent form to sign which gave the surgeon authority to do
whatever procedure he thought best. When he saw the surgeon it was agreed
that 11 teeth would be pulled. He went to the hospital, signed another
general consent, and while he was under general anaesthesia, the surgeon
pulled 27 teeth. The court upheld his action for battery as to the 16 teeth
for which no consent had been obtained.
Where there is no emergency condition, before the surgeon proceeds to extend
surgery he should attempt to get the consent of someone in the patient's
family. If this is not possible, he should probably decide not to extend
the scope of the surgery unduly. An extension of a minor operation into a
major one is usually considered assault and battery in the absence of an
emergency. However, want of consent would not imped a doctor from extending
the operation if the said extension was demanded in exercise of sound
professional judgment and was required to remedy any abnormal or diseased
condition of the patient. In the case of Kennedy vs. Parrott, the Court
upheld a surgery which was extended beyond the consent taken and observed as
During an appendectomy the surgeon discovered that his patient had several
large ovarian cysts, which he punctured. The patient sued him for assault
and batter but did not allege negligence. The Court dismissed the action
and stated that it was "unreasonable to hold a physician to the exact
operation that the preliminary examination indicates is necessary. A
complete diagnosis may not be possible until the incision is made. The
surgeon may extend the operation to remedy any abnormal or diseased
condition in the area of the original incision whenever he, in the exercise
of sound professional judgment, determines that correct surgical procedure
For a proper and valid consent a doctor would be well advised to ensure that
1. The consent must be a free consent. That is, it must not be obtained
under coercion, undue influence, misrepresentation, fraud or mistake.
2. The consent must be executed by parties having capacity to enter into
contracts. That is they must not be minors, they must not be of unsound
mind, unconscious or intoxicated.
3. In case of minor or person otherwise incpacitated consent of guardian
or person in lawful charge of the patient can give consent.
4. The consent must be to do a lawful act and it must not defeat any
provisions of law. For example: a free consent to terminate a 22 weeks
pregnancy is void ab-initio.
5. The consent must not be against `Morality' or `Public Policy'. For
example : Husband consenting to inseminate donor semen in his wife who
believes the semen to be her husband's.
6. Unilaterally executed consents are void. Consents being an agreement
between two or more persons, all concerned parties must execute the same.
Consent signed only by patients and not by the doctor or his representatives
is void ab-initio.
7. Consents duly witnessed are more dependable legally, as the parties
concerned can not subsequently deny execution.
A Model of Express Consent and Informed Consent is given herein below and
surgeons/physicians may utilise it with necessary adaptation to their
1) I-------------------- aged --- yrs. Wife/Son/Daughter of -------------
residing at ---------- state that I am admitting/submitting myself to the
above Nursing Home/Hospital/Clinic, for all necessary treatment, under the
care and supervision of Dr.------- , voluntarily without any coercion,
misrepresentation, mistake, fraud or undue influence.
2) I hereby consent and agree to the administration of all necessary
drugs, medications, intravenous fluids, blood, blood products, etc. and also
to subject myself to all necessary investigations and references as my
attending Doctors may deem necessary.
3) I am not allergic to any drug/I am allergic to ----- drugs.
4) I hereby consent and agree to the administration of
General/Regional/Local Anaesthesia and or Sedation by Dr.------ for the
performance of Surgical/Dental Operations, Delivery, Diagnostic or
Therapeutic procedures, Investigations, etc., and also to be supplemented
with any other mode of anaesthesia if necessary. I say that I have been
explained the risks of consuming solids/liquids including water eight hours
prior to the induction of anaesthesia.
5) I hereby also consent and agree to the performance of ------ upon
myself by Dr.------ I also further consent to such further or alternative
operative measures as may be deemed necessary, to be performed upon myself,
during or subsequent to the course of the above operation and also to the
administration of anaesthesia for its purpose. I say that I have also
obtained the consent of my spouse/relatives for the said operations,
procedures and treatment.
6) I say that I have no objection to the reuse of single use disposable
items provided the same is properly sterilized.
7) I say that I have objection to the reuse of single use disposable
8) I further say that I have been explained and I have fully understood,
the nature and the procedures involved in my treatment, the administration
of anaesthesia, the surgical/dental operations, diagnostic/therapeutic
procedures, delivery, administration of drugs, pathological, radiological, &
sonographical investigations, etc. together with the expected benefits, the
associated risks, untoward, unfavorable effects, effects of non treatment
and all possible consequences of the same.
9) I further say that I have had an opportunity, to ask all questions
regarding my illness/treatment and the same have been satisfactorily
answered by the attending Doctors. Other alternative methods of treatment
have also been discussed. No warranty or guarantee has been give to me with
respect to the results of the treatment by my attending Doctors, the
Hospital/Nursing Home/Clinic or its Staff.
10) I say that I have together with my Family Doctor checked the facilities
available at this Hospital/Nursing Home and found the same satisfactory.
11) I also hereby consent to and permit my attending Doctor to use
assistants such as the Hospital/Nursing Home/Clinic Residents, Other
Doctors, Nurses, Staff, etc. as he deems necessary.
12) I further consent and agree to the disposal by the Hospital Authority
of any tissues or parts that may be removed in the course of my treatment at
this Hospital/Nursing Home/Clinic.
13) I further consent and agree to the disposal by the Hospital Authority
of any tissues or parts that may be removed in the course of my treatment at
this Hospital/Nursing Home/Clinic.
14) I further consent and agree to the publication of my treatment for
medical, scientific or educational purposes provided the pictures or the
descriptive texts accompanying them do not reveal my identity.
15) I further consent and agree to being transferred to any other
Hospital/Nursing Home/Clinic, as considered fit by my Doctor, during any
time of the treatment, if my Doctors feel that it is beneficial for my
16) I further say that I have informed the Doctor of all my previous
illnesses, allergies, drug reactions, surgical procedures and all other
facts relevant to my treatment. I shall not hold the Hospital or the Doctor
responsible for the consequences, which may arise for the non-disclosure of
17) I hereby release the Hospital/Nursing Home, its personals, attending
Doctors, Anesthetists, Pathologists, Radiologists and all other person
participating in my care from any liability whatsoever for any untoward of
unfavorable consequences or results that may arise out of, or in the course
of my treatment (including surgery and anaestheisa) at this Hospital/Nursing
18) I have seen the schedule of all charges and the same are acceptable to
me and I undertake not to leave the Nursing Home/Hospital/Clinic until full
and final settlement of all dues has been made by me.
19) I also undertake to pay the clinic/Hospital/Nursing Home bills
immediately/within twenty four hours of its presentation and I am agreeable
to pay interest for delayed payment at the rate determined by the
Hospital/Nursing Home/Clinic from time to time.
20) I have fully understood the rules & regulations of the Nursing
Home/Hospital/Clinic and I agree to abide by the same.
21) The above has been explained to me and I have fully understood the same
and I am signing this consent cum undertaking by my own free will and in a
fully alert state of mind.
MODEL FORM OF EXPRESS CONSENT
I-------------------- son of---------- aged---- resident of -------- being
under the treatment of ------ (state here name of doctor/hospital/nursing
home) do hereby give consent to the performance of
medical/surgical/anesthesia/diagnostic procedure of---------- (mention
nature of procedure/treatment to be performed, etc.) upon myself/upon------
aged ---- who is related to me as ----- (mentioned here relationship, e.g.,
son, daughter, father, mother, wife, etc.)
I declare that I am more than 18 years of age.
I have been informed that there are inherent risks involved in the
treatment/procedure. I have signed this consent voluntarily out of my free
will without any pressure and in my full senses.