I’m Kate Dewhirst.

I’m a lawyer who writes about legal issues affecting healthcare in Canada

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Consent is not the last word

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Stay with me.  This might be a bit bumpy.  Let’s have a deep conversation about consent. And by consent, I mean consent in a health care context. Consent for treatment or for privacy decisions.

I recently watched an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert and Marie Forleo. In talking about her book, City of Girls, Elizabeth said something along the lines of:

“Consent is important AND it’s not the last word when it comes to female sexuality. There is also desire.”

“Consent sometimes sounds like a passive waiting for someone to come and say what they want to do with your body and you give or don’t give your consent. But desire is when you choose what you want and go after it.”

As a health lawyer, that got me thinking about consent in a health care context.

For recipients of health care services, “patients”, consent is important AND it is not the last word when it comes to patient experience, engagement and empowerment.  There is also desire.

What if we take our health care conversations beyond consent to treatment or consent to sharing health information – and we listen to and talk about what patients desire in their treatment? What if we don’t stop at consent when discussing privacy – but invite desire into our understanding of how patients want their information shared or not shared.

Instead of “consent” – we should talk about choice and desire.

What do patients want?

What choices does a patient have?

How do patients want to feel?

What does a patient want to have happen?

What outcomes does a patient want?

What experiences does the patient desire?

What questions do patients ask (especially in the time before we tell them what is going to happen to them)?

What if we let patients drive the process? What would be different?

To apply Elizabeth Gilbert’s philosophy to the health care context, if we only ever teach consent – we miss the perspective of the patient-driven experience of their own health.

Without desire – patients are not fully themselves and are not able to bring their full perspective and needs to their care experience.

Of course, we must not forget about consent.  But let’s make sure that our processes and approach to consent is not about “getting patients to sign our forms”.

When we have the “consent” talk – it is often focused on the health care provider’s or organization’s needs.

When we have a choice or desire talk – it would be focused on what the patient wants.


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Some of Kate’s recent and upcoming events

Team Privacy Training Events
October 16, October 24 and November 21

For Primary Care clinics, Children’s Aid and FHTs

Kate trains health professionals from many more primary care organizations how being privacy-respectful can improve therapeutic relationships. More details...

Speaking event October 23, 2019

Osgoode Professional Development – Mental health Certificate

Kate joins the faculty for this training event. More details...

Primary care webinars: Managing Incapacity & Consent to Treatment

Part of Kate’s monthly webinar series.

Our October webinar is about managing incapacity, and the November title is Consent to Treatment.
Full details of the 2020 webinar series and registration here.

Advanced Privacy Officer training
December 10, 2019

For experienced Privacy Officers within healthcare organisations.

This one day training course focuses on how to handle difficult privacy situations using real-life (but anonymized) case studies and role-play. Full details and registration here...

Privacy Officer training
January 20 & 27 and February 3,10 & 18, 2020

Kate is the program chair for the Osgoode Certificate in Privacy in Healthcare.

This program explores the range of privacy interests that must be protected in the day-to-day treatment of patients, the development of information systems and the creation of institutional policies. More details...

Free healthcare privacy webinar - ask me anything!
October 2, November 6 and December 4

Free webinars - advance registration needed

Whether you're an experienced privacy officer or new in the field, pick Kate’s brain for free for an hour, in this live webinar. No charge, but you’ll need to register in advance.

Kate Dewhirst Health Law

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