Duty to Inform and Informed Consent in Diagnostic Radiology: How Ethics and Law Can Better Guide Practice


Although there is consensus on the fact that ionizing radiation used in radiological examinations can affect health, the stochastic (random) nature of risk makes it difficult to anticipate and assess specific health implications for patients. The issue of radiation protection is peculiar as any dosage received in life is cumulative, the sensitivity to radiation is highly variable from one person to another, and between 20 % and 50 % of radiological examinations appear not to be necessary. In this context, one might reasonably assume that information and patient consent would play an important role in regulating radiological practice. However, there is to date no clear consensus regarding the nature and content of—or even need for—consent by patients exposed to ionizing radiation. While law and ethics support the same principles for respecting the dignity of the person (inviolability and integrity), in the context of radiology practice, they do not provide a consistent message to guide clinical decision-making. This article analyzes the issue of healthcare professionals’ duty to inform and obtain patient consent for radiological examinations. Considering that both law and ethics have as one of their aims to protect vulnerable populations, it is important that they begin to give greater attention to issues raised by the use of ionizing radiation in medicine. While the situation in Canada serves as a backdrop for a reflective analysis of the problem, the conclusions are pertinent for professional practice in other jurisdictions because the principles underlying health law and jurisprudence are fairly general.

In HealthCare Ethics Committee Forum (HEC Forum).