Informed Consent: Ethical and Legal Considerations for Advanced Practice Nurses

Linda Farmer, MSN, ACNP-BC; Ann Lundy, RN, JD


Journal for Nurse Practitioners. 2017;13(2):124-130. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The ethical principles of self-determination and autonomy govern the practice of informed consent. A patient's right to shared decision-making and assent prior to invasive procedures, therapeutic interventions, and research projects is protected by law. Foundational nursing roles of communication, education, and patient advocacy compel advance practice nurses to formulate methods that safeguard patients' rights. Legal implications of informed consent may vary, leaving nurse practitioners juxtaposed between judicial and ethical responsibilities. The goal of this study is to examine legal and ethical components of informed consent and to assist nurse practitioners in developing proactive practice strategies related to informed consent.


The informed consent process is fundamental to proper care and treatment of patients. Nurse practitioners (NPs) face many challenges related to this function. The patient has a legal and ethical right to direct what happens to his or her body that can be effectively exercised only if the patient possesses enough information to make an informed choice. If adequate information is not provided, the legal consequences could potentially involve litigation, professional licensure actions, and negative accreditation implications for the provider and the entity wherein the treatment occurred.

Equally important are ethical considerations. NPs have an ethical responsibility to educate the patient through meaningful discussion in order for the patient to make rational, reasonable, and autonomous decisions regarding their care and treatment. The process of informed consent should involve an ongoing and dynamic exchange of information between the patient and his or her health care provider. Throughout the informed consent process, the NP can foster proactive care decisions by being a resource for information, facilitating meaningful discussion, and working to resolve situations where the patient refuses or withdraws informed consent.[1,2] The purpose of this study is to examine the legal and ethical components of informed consent and to assist the NP in developing proactive practice strategies related to this process.