Using animal-derived constituents in anaesthesia and surgery: the case for disclosing to patients

BMC Medical Ethics 20 (1):1-9 (2019)
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Animal-derived constituents are frequently used in anaesthesia and surgery, and patients are seldom informed of this. This is problematic for a growing minority of patients who may have religious or secular concerns about their use in their care. It is not currently common practice to inform patients about the use of animal-derived constituents, yet what little empirical data does exist indicates that many patients want the opportunity to give their informed consent. First, we review the nature and scale of the problem by looking at the groups who may have concerns about the use of animal-derived constituents in their care. We then summarise some of the products used in anaesthesia and surgery that can contain such constituents, such as anaesthetic drugs, surgical implants and dressings. Finally, we explore the problem of animal-derived constituents and consent using Beauchamp and Childress’ four principles approach, examining issues of autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence and justice. Disclosing the use of animal-derived constituents in anaesthesia and surgery is warranted under Beauchamp and Childress’ four principles approach to the problem. Although there exist systemic and practical challenges to implementing this in practice, the ethical case for doing so is strong. The Montgomery ruling presents additional legal reason for disclosure because it entails that patients must be made aware of risks associated with their treatment that they attach significance to.
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