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Does the General Medical Council’s 2020 guidance on consent advance on its 2008 guidance?
  1. Abeezar I Sarela
  1. Department of Surgery, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Abeezar I Sarela, Department of Surgery, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK; a.sarela{at}


The General Medical Council renewed its guidance on consent in 2020. In this essay, I argue that the 2020 guidance does not advance on the earlier, 2008 guidance in regard to treatments that doctors are obliged to offer to patients. In both, doctors are instructed to not provide treatments that are not in the overall benefit, or clinical interests, of the patient; although, patients are absolutely entitled to decline treatment. As such, consent has two aspects, and different standards apply to each aspect. To explore this paradigm, I propose the reconceptualisation of consent as a person’s freedom to achieve treatment, using Amartya Sen’s approach. Sen explains that freedom has two aspects: process and opportunity. Accordingly, a patient’s freedom to achieve treatment would comprise a process for the identification of proper treatment, followed by an opportunity for the patient to accept or decline this treatment. As per Sen, the opportunity aspect is to be assessed by the standard of public reason, whereas the standard for the process aspect is variable and contingent on the task at hand. I then use this reconceptualised view of consent to analyse case law. I show that senior judges have conceived the patient’s opportunity to be encompassed in information, which is to be decided by public reason. On the other hand, the process aspect relies on the private reason of medical professionals. Given the nature of professionalism, this reliance is inescapable, and it is maintained in the case law that is cited in both guidances.

  • autonomy
  • codes of/position statements on professional ethics
  • informed consent
  • law
  • political philosophy

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  • Contributors This paper is the sole work of AIS.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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