Prior consent to medical treatment is now regarded as essential to healthcare practice. Indeed it has been said that since the 1970s, promoting and protecting autonomy within healthcare has become one of the major concerns of bioethics (see, for example, Flamm and Forster, 2000, p 142). It includes protection of the right to bodily integrity and freedom of choice. It is also an important legal issue and the position on this has been clearly stated:

It is trite law that, in general, a doctor is not entitled to treat a patient without the consent of someone who is authorised to give that consent. If he does so, he will be liable in damages for trespass to the person and may be guilty of a criminal assault.1