- Cancer Information
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- Cancer care and your rights
- Making treatment decisions
- Giving informed consent for treatment
Giving informed consent for treatment
Your doctor needs your agreement (consent) before performing any medical treatment. To help you make a well-informed decision that’s based on your personal values, your doctor is required to give you information about:
- the proposed treatment and its benefits
- other treatment options
- possible side effects, risks and complications
- likely out-of-pocket costs (if any).
Receiving and understanding this information before voluntarily agreeing to treatment (that is, without being pressured to do so) is called informed consent. You will usually be asked to sign a document indicating that you understand the information you are given and agree to treatment. If you are confused or need more information, talk to your doctor (Here are some suggested questions you can ask your doctor before giving your informed consent to treatment).
Adults can give their informed consent – or refuse it – if they have capacity. Capacity means they can understand and remember the information about the treatment options, make decisions based on this information, and communicate their decision. If you do not have capacity, another person may be able to make decisions for you.
Sometimes consent is not needed, such as in a medical emergency (e.g. the treatment is required to prevent death, serious damage to the patient’s health or significant pain or distress), or when the patient is unconscious or mentally incapacitated.
Consent from children and young people
As much as possible, involve your child in decisions about their care. Give them age-appropriate information, include them in discussions about their treatment, and encourage them to ask questions. Ensure that the health care team considers your child’s health care preferences.
Talk to a lawyer for specific information about consent and children in your state or territory. Australian law generally recognises that people aged 16 and older can make their own health care decisions, and the law requires doctors to obtain their consent before treatment.
As people under the age of 16 are legally considered minors, it’s usually up to their parent or legal guardian to consent to health care. However, some states and territories have laws that allow certain minors to make decisions about their own care.
The law also recognises that children become more competent as they grow up, and their consent and input can be sought on a case-by-case basis. For example, a 15-year-old may have more say in their health care than a child aged 11. The young person may be required to show that they understand the nature and possible results of the proposed treatment, and their decision may need to be supported by a doctor.
Toni Ashmore, Cancer and Ambulatory Services, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Baker McKenzie, Pro Bono Legal Adviser, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Acting Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, South Metropolitan Health Service, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; David Briggs, Consumer; Naomi Catchpole, Social Worker, Metro South Health, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Tarishi Desai, Legal Research Officer, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Kathryn Dwan, Manager, Policy and Research, Health Care Consumers Association, ACT; Hayley Jones, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Victoria Lear, Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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