Consent in the time of COVID-19
Turnham HL., Dunn M., Hill E., Thornburn GT., Wilkinson D.
The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has necessitated widespread adaptation of revised treatment regimens for both urgent and routine medical problems in patients with and without COVID-19. Some of these alternative treatments maybe second-best. Treatments that are known to be superior might not be appropriate to deliver during a pandemic when consideration must be given to distributive justice and protection of patients and their medical teams as well the importance given to individual benefit and autonomy. What is required of the doctor discussing these alternative, potentially inferior treatments and seeking consent to proceed? Should doctors share information about unavailable but standard treatment alternatives when seeking consent? There are arguments in defence of non-disclosure; information about unavailable treatments may not aid a patient to weigh up options that are available to them. There might be justified concern about distress for patients who are informed that they are receiving second-best therapies. However, we argue that doctors should tailor information according to the needs of the individual patient. For most patients that will include a nuanced discussion about treatments that would be considered in other times but currently unavailable. That will sometimes be a difficult conversation, and require clinicians to be frank about limited resources and necessary rationing. However, transparency and honesty will usually be the best policy.