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Law Notes Medical Law Notes

Autonomy, Consent, Capacity Notes

Updated Autonomy, Consent, Capacity Notes

Medical Law Notes

Medical Law

Approximately 1067 pages

Medical Law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB medical law cases and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London).

These were the best Medical Law notes the director of Oxbridge Notes (an Oxford law graduate) could find after combing through forty-eight LLB samples from outstanding law students with the highest ...

The following is a more accessible plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Medical Law Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:



  • MP – Medical Practitioner

  • P – Patient

  • D – Doctor

  • AD – Advance Directive

  • [ ] – my own comments/opinions

General Notes

  • Interesting links between overriding autonomy in the present to protect your future autonomy, and ADs! (from the Maclean article + Heywood)

    • ADs essentially override future autonomy, to protect your present autonomy (at the time you make the AD)

    • If you conceive of life as a narrative (Dworkin), then it’s justifiable for a person to exercise his present autonomy to limit his future autonomy, since the person whom the person will develop into depends on his current choices, and there’s no reason why he can’t mould that chapter of his life

      • This means (a) not justifiable to intervene with even irrational decisions of an autonomous person (with capacity) that threaten to harm his future autonomy and (b) justifiable to follow ADs!

  • This leads on to the STRONG view: that paternalism is a GOOD thing

    • Honestly the Courts are probably better equipped to decide for us

    • Think about the number of mistakes we make in our day to day decisions

  • Think about autonomy beyond the Patient

    • E.g. Doctor’s autonomy! To withhold treatment

Herring, Chapter 4: Consent to Treatment


  • It is the patient, rather than the doctor, who has final say about proposed treatment can go ahead

    • Jackson J, Heart of England NHS Trust v JB: “anyone capable of making decisions has an absolute right to accept or refuse medical treatment, regardless of the wisdom or consequences of the decision. The decision does not have to be justified to anyone. In the absence of consent any invasion of the body will be a criminal assault. The fact that the intervention is well-meaning or therapeutic makes no difference”

  • Consent is required, EI there’s strong evidence that procedure is the best interests of the patient

    • St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust v S 1998

      • Facts: woman in labour was told she needed a C section and that, without such an operation, she and the foetus would die. Operation was carried out against her will

      • Held: unlawful. Great weight was placed on the importance of the right to bodily integrity. Not even the fact she and the foetus would die without the operation provided a sufficiently good reason to justify carrying out the C section

  • It does not follow that if a patient wishes to receive treatment, he/ she must be given it

    • R (Burke) v GMC

      • “Autonomy and the right of self-determination do not entitle the patient to insist on receiving a particular medical treatment regardless of the nature of the treatment”

Consequences of treatment without consent

  • Starting point: healthcare professional who intentionally or recklessly touches a patient without his or her consent is committing a crime (battery) and a tort (trespass to the person and/ or negligence)

  • To be acting lawfully in touching, professional needs a defence:

    • (i) consent of patient

    • (ii) consent of another person who is authorised to consent on the patient’s behalf

    • (iii) a specific defence in common law or statute

Criminal law and the non-consenting patient

  • Technically, a medical professional who intentionally or recklessly touches a patient without consent could be charged with criminal offence of battery

    • But very rare, usually occurs only when professional was acting maliciously

  • Potts v North West Regional Health Authority

    • Facts: woman consented to the giving of what was described as a routine postnatal vaccination. In fact, it was a long-acting contraceptive

    • Held: not consented to battery

  • R v Tabaussum

    • Facts: women agreed to breast examinations on the understanding that they were being performed for educational purposes, whereas they were actually for D’s sexual pleasure

    • Held: deception either as to the nature or quality of the act could negate consent

      • Although act of touching was consented to, the quality of the acts was different

      • Touching motivated by sexual purposes has different quality than touching for non-sexual purposes

  • R v Richardson

    • Facts: R had been removed from the list of the dental register, but continued to provide treatment to the patients. The patients had not been deceived either as to the nature nor identity of the person. Their mistake was as to her attributes

    • Held: deception as to identity of person providing the treatment can negate apparent consent, but a deception as to qualities of the person does not

      • But criticised on basis that a person receiving medical treatment may be more concerned about medical qualification of the individual than their identity

The law of tort and the non-consenting patient

  • Proceedings in tort usually brought under negligence. Tort of battery has limited role

    • Border v Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust

      • Facts: doctor inserted an IV tube against the wishes of the patient

      • Dealt with as a negligence case although it could’ve been seen as battery

  • Maclean: suggests 2 reasons for the preference for negligence

    • (i) tort of battery has strong overtones of a criminal offence. Where it has been found that tort of battery was committed, very likely a crime has been too

    • (ii) use of negligence gives judges greater control over the scope of the tortious liability because, they can determine whether or not doctor was acting reasonably (Bolam test)

      • Under tort of batter, if patient was not consenting, liability arises even though docyor may have been acting responsibly

  • Important differences between tort of battery and negligence

    • (i) negligence focuses on question of whether the medical professional acted in accordance with an accepted body of medical opinion, whereas battery focuses on question of whether patient consented

      • E.g. where patient agreed to operation after being given limited info: question of whether information provided was considered appropriate by respectable body of medical opinion VS whether consent in broad terms had been given

      • Under battery, protection more focused on...

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