A patient who goes to a medical practitioner for treatment has both, at Common Law and constitutionally a right to object to a form of treatment. Therefore, his consent must be sought before treatment is administered. This is referred to as obtaining the informed consent of the patient. What is the Common Law view of this concept of informed consent? Are there constitutional safeguards? Sometimes, doctors in treating certain patients tend to override their objection to certain forms of treatment on the basis of medical ethics.
This paper shows that a doctor who disregards the opinion of the patient would be liable in the tort of assault and battery and also for infringement of the fundamental right of the individual as preserved under Sections 37 and 38 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. One particular area of concern is blood transfusion. Some patients on the basis of religion would refuse blood transfusion under any circumstance. This is particularly so amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Can a doctor override the wishes of this class of patients? It will be shown in this paper that the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse blood transfusion has been recognized both at Common Law and under the Nigerian Constitution. This is also true in other Common Law jurisdictions including the United States of America, A doctor does not know it all. Medical knowledge is not sufficiently advanced to enable a physician to predict with unerring certainty who will live or die upon the performance or non-performance of certain medical procedures. In fact, it would be the height of arrogance for doctors to presume that they know what is absolutely ‘good’ or ‘best’ for a Legal Principles and Policies: Essays in Honour of Justice C. Idigbe particular patient. Indeed, there is no basis for presuming that a doctor can always prescribe and enjoin what is in the overall interest of a patient. The only way to know whether an intervention is good medicine is to ask the patient. The patient may then give an informed consent.