Doctors investigate, treat and research their patients. Whether the patient agrees to accept such procedures will depend on a number of contextual issues, for example: • the quality of his or her relationship with the doctor • previous experiences of medical care • media coverage of medical issues • cultural and religious background • the influence of his or her relatives. For adult patients in the UK, the only person who can consent to a medical procedure is the patient. The same ethical and legal principles apply to the process of obtaining consent whatever the procedure, even though the process of obtaining consent varies considerably - the ’consenting’ of patients before major surgery tends to be more explicit than that which takes place when a GP prescribes an antibiotic. This contribution explores the principles of valid consent and mental capacity as they apply in the UK. As these are universal concepts in medicine, the discussion is not restricted to patients with mental illness, where in many jurisdictions separate legal processes apply. Discussion is limited to adults, as children are covered by separate legal provision. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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