Your Health and the Law

                                     Your rights to medical treatment


Mrs. Ogbos Oliver was taken to the hospital for fever, restlessness and general feeling of being unwell. She was attended to and samples of her blood and urine taken for tests. However, before the results were out, the doctor commenced treatment; drugs, drips and injections were given. The result came out the next day while that of the urine took two days. By then she had taken three drips, ten injections and dozens of drugs.

By the second day, so much medication have been given to her that she had become extremely weak, lost appetite completely and had heartburn.

A nurse came and requested to take an abdominal tap and scan her abdomen. The Patient outrightly declined to be scanned. As a woman and human being, she has a right and is entitled to self-determination and is sovereign over her body. She has right to liberty which is the most fundamental of all rights as stated in Union Pacific Railway V Ford that “No right is held more sacrosanct, or is more carefully guarded … than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person” (see also section: 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999). Therefore, she had every right to refuse that procedure.

She was not informed why all these tests and invasive treatment were being carried out neither was she told the type of drugs she was being given nor their purposes. At the end of it all, nothing of concern was found in the results of both tests yet she had been treated for infections and saturated with all sorts of medication.

While all these were going on, she kept complaining that the drugs and injections were too many and the reply she got was that “the Doctor knows what he is doing. “When she couldn’t take it anymore, she asked to be discharged which was reluctantly accepted.

This is the pattern most hospitals adopt and it is very rampant because of some doctors’ desperation to make money at all costs. In fact, prescriptions are always written before the patient finishes her complaints. A doctor cannot assume that he knows everything; he should discuss with the patient and seek her cooperation in order to attain best results.

In our largely illiterate population with limited awareness of personal rights, this issue routinely raises difficult questions and creates opportunities for unethical practices.

In civilized societies, a doctor will listen to your complaints, tell you what he thinks your ailment is, the line of treatment and the purpose and the attendant risks thereby getting you informed. In Dr. OKONKWO V  M D P D T (1999), the court stated: “It is recognised at law that every adult of sound mind has a right to choose what medical treatment he wants or prefers and the courts will not allow medical opinion of what is best for the patient to override the patient’s right to decide for himself whether he will submit to the treatment offered him”. A patient who submits himself to a doctor for treatment has impliedly consented to the treatment but that does not give the doctor the liberty to go on treating his patient without informing him of what he is doing. Where one holds himself out as a doctor licensed to practice, he is assumed under the law to possess the requisite expertise to discharge his duties effectively and efficiently without being in breach of the duty of care he owes his patient.

A patient has a right to withdraw his consent either given impliedly or expressly where he feels unsatisfied or unhappy with the treatment he is getting and even seeks redress in court as his right is preserved under SS 35, 37 and 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (1999).

By Barr. (Mrs) Sally Ishaka