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Responsiveness and the Role of Rights in Medical Law: Lessons from Montgomery

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Publication details

JournalMedical Law Review
DateAccepted/In press - 11 Feb 2020
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 17 Mar 2020
Issue number3
Number of pages33
Pages (from-to)445-477
Early online date17/03/20
Original languageEnglish


Over time, medical law has moved away from paternalism in favour of an approach grounded in patients’ rights. Using Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board (2015) as a case-study, we offer a deeper analysis of this emerging approach. We argue that patients’ rights should be evaluated in terms of their contribution to making medical law more socially responsive, by developing it to give effect to social needs and aspirations pertaining to healthcare. Although rights can play an important role in achieving social responsiveness, they also carry the risk of entrenching approaches unrepresentative of patients’ actual needs and empirical realities. This is evident in Montgomery, where the law, despite being derived from GMC guidance, has effects which differ significantly from the GMC’s goals. Drawing on socio-legal literature, we outline a new approach for guiding the use of rights in medical law focused on the functional consequences of rights in facilitating patients’ aspirations, and the capacity of rights to respond to social and institutional contexts in which medical interaction occurs. We conclude by showing how this approach, applied to informed consent, would produce a different and arguably superior duty, providing a sounder basis for responding to patient needs.

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