The Ethics of Informed Consent

Informed ConsentTo celebrate Nurses Week and this year’s theme of Ethics in Nursing, NursingCenter.com invited Kathy Schoonover Shoffner, editor of the Journal of Christian Nursing, to write a blog post on the ethics of informed consent. Here is an abridged version.

As nurses, we are typically assigned the task of obtaining and witnessing written consent for healthcare treatment, so it’s important to understand what is involved in informed consent and what nurses can do to improve the process as a collaborative activity.

I’ll never forget admitting a young mother to our busy psychiatric unit after a drug overdose. She was terrified to sign the consent form for admission and treatment, afraid for herself and her child who was put in protective custody.

I repeatedly explained what I knew about her child, treatment plan, consent process, and her options. I knew it was in her best interest to sign but understood it was her decision to be admitted voluntarily or involuntarily. I felt ethically compelled to preserve that choice.

After almost an hour, I stepped out of the room to give her time to settle down and process. Then I updated my supervisor. She hastily went to the patient, stuck the form and a pen in front of her, and said, “You need to sign this NOW!”

My patient complied, tears streaming down her face.

I’ve since thought a lot about informed consent and preserving patient autonomy. In all settings, nurses are on the front lines of assuring patients truly are giving informed consent.

A patient’s informed consent should also be assured when giving spiritual care, though not written. How do we assess for spiritual needs and appropriately respond? What ethical guidelines must be followed when offering spiritual care? A comprehensive article discussing informed, ethical, and non-coercive spiritual care that could be applied to other holistic nursing interventions is, “Spiritual Care: Evangelism at the Bedside?,” by nurse researcher and spiritual care expert, Elizabeth Johnston Taylor. Take a look at this free article and discover principles for ethical nursing interventions.

This Nurses Week, remember that informed consent is a way of nursing each of us needs to live out as we offer our patients ethical practice and quality nursing care!

Read Kathy’s complete blog post and more of the Ethics in Nursing blog series covering advance directives, moral distress, horizontal violence, pain management, elder abuse, and end-of-life issues.

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One Response to “The Ethics of Informed Consent”

  1. ncfjane Says:

    Thanks to Kathy for clearly defining informed consent and explaining the nurse’s role in helping patients make a truly informed consent. How often are we pressured to get a form filled in, and we “pass” this pressure on to the patient? Another issue for nurses to consider is being sure about the content in the consent- be sure you are the right professional to be doing the informing! NCF is very thankful for Kathy’s contribution to the LWW blog on ethics and for the opportunity for MANY nurses have to read the article on spiritual care in JCN.

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