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Informed consent in neurosurgery—translating ethical theory into action
  1. Dagmar Schmitz1,
  2. Peter C Reinacher2
  1. 1Institute of Ethics and History in Medicine, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
  2. 2Department of Neurosurgery, University of Technology (RWTH) Aachen, Aachen, Germany
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Dagmar Schmitz
 Institute of Ethics and History in Medicine, University of Tübingen, Schleichstr. 8, 72076 Tübingen, Germany; schmitzdg{at}


Objective: Although a main principle of medical ethics and law since the 1970s, standards of informed consent are regarded with great scepticism by many clinicans.

Methods: By reviewing the reactions to and adoption of this principle of medical ethics in neurosurgery, the characteristic conflicts that emerge between theory and everyday clinical experience are emphasised and a modified conception of informed consent is proposed.

Results: The adoption and debate of informed consent in neurosurgery took place in two steps. Firstly, respect for patient autonomy was included into the ethical codes of the professional organisations. Secondly, the legal demands of the principle were questioned by clinicians. Informed consent is mainly interpreted in terms of freedom from interference and absolute autonomy. It lacks a constructive notion of physician–patient interaction in its effort to promote the best interest of the patient, which, however, potentially emerges from a reconsideration of the principle of beneficence.

Conclusion: To avoid insufficient legal interpretations, informed consent should be understood in terms of autonomy and beneficence. A continuous interaction between the patient and the given physician is considered as an essential prerequisite for the realisation of the standards of informed consent.

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