Informed consent is reviewed as it applies to psychiatric patients. Although new legislation, such as the Mental Health Act 1983, provides a useful safeguard for the protection of the civil rights of patients, it could actually reduce their humane care unless applied with sensitivity for the nature of their unique difficulties. In order to guard against this possibility, we suggest that legal requirements should be considered in light of the ethical principles which underlie them. Three principles are considered: those of autonomy (freedom); beneficence (paternalism); and the fiduciary principle (partnership). Psychotherapy is offered as a model for informed consent, which might be generalised to other clinical situations.
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