Concerns are frequently raised about the extent to which formal consent procedures actually lead to “informed” consent. As part of a study of consent to high-risk medical procedures, we analyzed in-depth interviews with 16 health care professionals working in bone-marrow transplantation in Sydney, Australia. We find that these professionals recognize and act on their responsibility to inform and educate patients and that they expect patients to reciprocate these efforts by demonstrably engaging in the education process. This expectation is largely implicit, however, and when it is not met, this can give rise to trouble that can have adverse consequences for patients, physicians, and relationships within the clinic. We revisit the concept of the sick role to formalize this new role expectation, and we argue that “informed” consent is a process that is usually incomplete, despite trappings and assumptions that help to create the illusion of completeness.
Informed consent; Sick role; Bioethics; Sociology, Medical; Bone marrow transplantation; Qualitative research; Australia