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Time to improve informed consent for dialysis: an international perspective

Murtagh, Fliss E.M.; Brennan, Frank; Stewart, Cameron; Burgess, Hannah; Davison, Sara N.; Moss, Alvin H.; Murtagh, Fliss E. M.; Germain, Michael; Tranter, Shelley; Brown, Mark


Fliss E.M. Murtagh

Frank Brennan

Cameron Stewart

Hannah Burgess

Sara N. Davison

Alvin H. Moss

Michael Germain

Shelley Tranter

Mark Brown


The literature reveals that current nephrology practice in obtaining informed consent for dialysis falls short of ethical and legal requirements. Meeting these requirements represents a significant challenge, especially because the benefits and risks of dialysis have shifted significantly with the growing number of older, comorbid patients. The importance of informed consent for dialysis is heightened by several concerns, including: (1) the proportion of predialysis patients and patients on dialysis who lack capacity in decision making and (2) whether older, comorbid, and frail patients understand their poor prognosis and the full implications to their independence and functional status of being on dialysis. This article outlines the ethical and legal requirements for a valid informed consent to dialysis: (1) the patient was competent, (2) the consent was made voluntarily, and (3) the patient was given sufficient information in an understandable manner to make the decision. It then considers the application of these requirements to practice across different countries. In the process of informed consent, the law requires a discussion by the physician of the material risks associated with dialysis and alternative options. We argue that, legally and ethically, this discussion should include both the anticipated trajectory of the illness and the effect on the life of the patient with particular regard to the outcomes most important to the individual. In addition, a discussion should occur about the option of a conservative, nondialysis pathway. These requirements ensure that the ethical principle of respect for patient autonomy is honored in the context of dialysis. Nephrologists need to be open to, comfortable with, and skillful in communicating this information. From these clear, open, ethically, and legally valid consent discussions, a significant dividend will hopefully flow for patients, families, and nephrologists alike.


Murtagh, F. E., Brennan, F., Stewart, C., Burgess, H., Davison, S. N., Moss, A. H., …Brown, M. (2017). Time to improve informed consent for dialysis: an international perspective. Clinical journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 12(6), 1001-1009.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 4, 2017
Online Publication Date Jun 6, 2017
Publication Date Jun 7, 2017
Deposit Date Nov 15, 2017
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology : CJASN
Print ISSN 1555-9041
Electronic ISSN 1555-905X
Publisher American Society of Nephrology
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Issue 6
Pages 1001-1009
Keywords Comprehension; Decision Making; Dissent and Disputes; Humans; Informed Consent; Internationality; Nephrologists; Prognosis; Risk Assessment; Autonomy; Consent; Decision making; Dialysis; Ethics; Nephrology; Quality of life; Renal dialysis; Survival
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