Informed consent is a legal condition whereby a person can be said to have given consent based upon a full appreciation and understanding of the facts and implications of any actions, with the individual being in possession of all of his faculties (not mentally retarded or mentally ill), and his judgment not being impaired at the time of consenting (by sleepiness, intoxication by alcohol or drugs, other health problems, etc.).
In many countries, people cannot give informed consent until they reach a certain age. The argument is that as a child the person might be incapable of comprehending the arguments and information, and thus could give consent, but even after the act of informing the child the consent would not be considered as based on being informed. The term age of consent is especially applied to consenting to sexual acts.
Some acts cannot legally take place because of a lack of informed consent, e.g. sexual acts, in other cases consent of legal parents or guardians of a child on its behalf is valid.
In some States, Informed Consent laws (sometimes called "Right To Know" laws) require that a woman seeking an elective abortion be given factual information by the abortion provider about her legal rights, alternatives to abortion (such as adoption), available public and private assistance, and medical facts, before the abortion is performed (usually 24 hours in advance of the abortion). These laws have been shown to reduce the frequency of abortion by 10-20%.
People must give informed consent before medical operations, and doctors may be sued for not giving their patients a full awareness of the risks associated with such things as medical trials of new medications and operations. In one British case, a doctor performing routine surgery on a woman noticed that she had cancerous tissue in her womb. He took the decision to remove the woman's womb; however, as she had not given informed consent for this operation, the doctor was judged by the General Medical Council to have acted negligently. The council said that the woman should have been informed of her condition, and allowed to make her own decision.
The question of whether informed consent needs to be formally given before sexual intercourse or other sexual activity, and whether this consent can be withdrawn at any time during the act, is an issue which is currently being discussed in the United States in regard to rape and sexual assault legislation.
It may not be possible to give consent to certain activities in certain jurisdictions; see the Operation Spanner case for an example of this in the UK.
Informed consent is also important in social research. For example in survey research, people need to give informed consent before they participate in the survey.
Last updated: 05-07-2005 12:03:54
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04