Informed Consent in Health Care

What is informed consent?

Informed consent is a communication process in which you are given the tools, information and opportunities needed to safely and confidently give consent to a treatment or process, such as a medical or surgical procedure. The process should go something like this:

  1. Your provider suggests a proposed procedure or treatment and gives you information about the costs and benefits of the medical procedure or treatment.
  2. You are told about other options, including what might happen if you decline the procedure or treatment. This information needs to be explained in a way you can understand.
  3. You are given the opportunity to ask questions about the proposed treatment or procedure and all the alternative options. In addition, you may want to take time to talk about the procedure with your loved ones or other advisors.
  4. You use all the information you have been given to make a decision that is in your best interest by weighing all costs and benefits.
  5. After you understand and have considered the information and options, you are ready to give your informed decision. You may be asked to sign a written consent form, confirming that you have gone through this process and are ready, willing, and able to give your informed consent.

Professionals and advocates who want to improve the informed consent process in their practices may benefit from this practical guide.

What if I don't know what decision is right for me?

As mentioned above, feel free to ask questions! It is completely understandable that you may not know what decision is right for you, or for your loved one if you are giving consent on their behalf. You should communicate to your provider any reservations that you have. You may also want to consult with your family, friends, and other advisors. However, it is important to remember that the final decision is yours, and it must be made free from pressure and in your best interests. For more information about informed consent, check out the Informed Consent resources from the American Cancer Society.

What if I don't fully understand the procedure or treatment?

You should absolutely feel free to ask as many questions as necessary until you are ready to give informed consent. Asking questions is an important part of the informed consent process and you should never hesitate to ask a question, no matter how simple or complex. You may also ask for resources that help to explain the treatment, or recommendations of patients, advocates or others to speak to about their experiences or perspectives. Medical procedures can be big decisions, so asking about the procedure, recovery, and potential consequences are vital to your ability to give informed consent, your health and your peace of mind.

Can I give informed consent on behalf of my loved one?

Depending on the legal relationship you have with your loved one, you may be able to give informed consent on his or her behalf. Click here for a detailed explanation.

Generally, parents may give informed consent on behalf of their children. You may also be able to give informed consent for a person if you are a health care power of attorney or legal guardian (see Red Treehouse  guide, Kinship Care and Grandfamilies). If your child has a disability, consider whether he or she can be expected to give informed consent independently upon reaching the age of 18. If the disability may prevent this, you may wish to consider filing for legal guardianship; doing this prior to his or her 18th birthday will ensure that you can continuously give informed consent on his or her behalf. You may also seek to become the guardian of a loved one who is no longer able to make his or her own decision. You may want to seek legal counsel to help you learn more about this process and the duties and responsibilities of being a legal guardian. These resources from the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council and Disability Rights Ohio look at questions regarding  guardianship in Ohio.

What if I don’t give my informed consent?

Giving informed consent is essential to your well-being, as well as your legal and medical rights. Generally, informed consent is required and there may be consequences for healthcare professionals who do not obtain your informed consent. There are, however, some situations where health care professionals may execute their duties without informed consent. The two most common are 1) an emergency in which medical care is needed immediately to prevent serious or irreversible harm and 2) incompetence in which someone is unable to give permission (or to refuse permission) for testing or treatment. For more information about consequences and exceptions click here.


This guide was developed as part of a project made possible by a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation.  The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Ohio State Bar Foundation.

Lead researcher/author: Ricardo Vidal, J.D. Candidate, 2019, RedTreehouse.org Legal Intern

Jeanine Carroll