A Guide to Informed Consent during Pregnancy

Many people aren’t aware that any time you undergo a medical procedure, your medical treatment professionals should obtain your “informed consent.”

While pregnancy is most often thought of as a natural occurrence rather than a medical procedure, a lot of the tests and treatments you will undergo during pregnancy are actual medical treatments and require informed consent.

What is “informed consent”?

Informed consent is different from “permission” or simple consent. Informed consent requires that you are told about all of the things that may happen during or because of your treatment. In most cases, these are the things that may go wrong during or after a medical procedure.

You must be told of:

  • The processes or procedures that your physician is considering using and whether any of these procedures are considered to be new
  • The risks and side effects that may occur because of your treatment
  • The need or necessity of the treatment or procedure (the reason)
  • The possibility of other treatment methods, including the likelihood that they will work

In addition to telling you of this information, the physician or healthcare facility must ensure that you understand. Informed consent paperwork must be easy to read and comprehend and they must discuss it with you verbally.

Even in the rare case that you don’t want to know the “bad” possibilities – they still have to tell you.

Informed consent during pregnancy

Pregnancy is no different from any other medical procedure in terms of the requirement for informed consent. Many physicians may minimize the need for complete informed consent because of the thought that a patient may obsess over negative risks or refuse reasonable treatments due to irrational fears, but legally you must give informed consent for every medical procedure with knowledge of the risks and alternatives.

When you go to a new facility, they should ensure that you give informed consent and when it is time to have your child, the hospital must do the same. Each facility must have its own process and each procedure which is out-of-the-ordinary should be addressed as a separate issue.

Unfortunately, not all medical treatments or procedures turn out as expected and untoward events can happen during pregnancy. Understanding all of the procedures, reasons and possible outcomes won’t prevent a negative event but it may allow you to choose a different route if you aren’t comfortable. Informed consent also gives you the right to refuse treatment if you don’t want it.

When you didn’t give informed consent

The informed consent process is a legal issue but it protects both the patient and the health professional or facility. As the patient, you need to know all of the information that is available so that you can make the right decisions for yourself and your baby. If you aren’t given all of the facts, you can’t make an informed decision and you can’t fully participate in your treatment plan.

Many medical events that occur during pregnancy or childbirth may have been preventable if the patient had been fully advised of treatment possibilities and potential outcomes. As a patient, pregnant or not, you have the right to guide your medical treatment – and except under rare circumstances, the facility or professionals are required to follow your plan.

Saying “yes” to something is not consent unless you have been given the option to say “no”. Hospital or “standard” procedures don’t trump your rights and if you are pressured into something, you didn’t really give consent. If you don’t want an episiotomy, you shouldn’t have one – even if they say “we always do that”.


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