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Women’s accounts of consenting to surgery: is consent a quality problem?
  1. M Habiba1,
  2. C Jackson1,
  3. A Akkad1,
  4. S Kenyon1,
  5. M Dixon-Woods2
  1. 1Reproductive Sciences Section, University of Leicester, Leicester LE2 7LX, UK
  2. 2Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 6TP, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M Dixon-Woods
 Reproductive Sciences Section, University of Leicester, 22–28 Princess Road West, Leicester LE1 6TP, UK;


Background: Consent has been placed at the centre of doctor-patient relationships. Attempts to improve the consent process in medicine have drawn on bioethical and legal traditions. Current approaches to consent emphasise the provision of information and have, in the UK, resulted in a single standardised format and process for both elective and emergency situations. Investigation of patients’ perceptions and priorities are important in understanding the quality of the consent process.

Methods: In this qualitative study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 women. Eleven had elective and 14 had emergency operations in obstetrics and gynaecology. All interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data analysis was based on the constant comparative method.

Results: Participants’ perceptions of surgery strongly influenced the meanings they gave to consent. Some, particularly those undergoing elective operations, wanted surgery. Others were uncertain of their desire for surgery or felt that it was imposed on them. Consenting was interpreted as a ritualistic legal procedure. There was an overwhelming tendency to view consent as not primarily serving patients’ needs, although some advantages of the consent process were identified. Accounts made no reference to ethics.

Conclusion: Countering paternalism will remain difficult to achieve if issues surrounding consent continue to be debated between professionals without due effort to reflect patients’ own views and values and to appreciate the circumstances under which consent is sought.

  • patient consent
  • doctor-patient relationship
  • patients’ views

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  • See editorial commentary, p 414

  • Financial support: Trent NHS Executive Office

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