Every patient has a right to know what can go wrong if he or she undergoes surgery. It is the surgeon’s job to make sure that he or she has a full and complete conversation with the patient before he or she gives his or her consent to have the operation. In other words, patients are not guinea pigs. They have a right to know what possible harm they could suffer if they agree to have surgery. Bleeding, lacerations, strokes, injury to nerves or internal organs … these are things that can happen during surgery, and patients have a right to know.
In addition to talking about the harm that could occur, the doctor also has an obligation to discuss with the patient whether there are other alternatives to treatment apart from surgery. For example, can the illness be treated with just medication? If not, is there a less risky type of surgery that could be done? Those are all important things that a doctor needs to discuss with a patient before taking him or her into the operating room.
Patients also need to know about the doctor’s surgical experience. How many times has he or she done the operation that you are about to undergo? What have the results been?
In 2005, the attorneys of Gismondi & Associates successfully handled one of the best known informed consent cases in Pennsylvania. In that case, we secured a $3 million verdict on behalf of a young girl who suffered horrible facial scars and underwent 14 surgeries, all because the surgeon attempted to perform an operation on this child without fully informing the parents that he had never attempted this sort of surgery in the past. The case was the subject of much notoriety locally and nationally and was featured on Good Morning America and in People magazine.
In the end, informed consent cases are about freedom of choice … patients’ freedom to make wise and intelligent choices about what risks they are willing to take when they put their lives in the hands of a surgeon.