This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

When I was practicing law, I represented doctors who were sued for medical malpractice. Often my clients were sued for not obtaining “informed consent” from a patient before performing a medical procedure on that patient. What is informed consent? It goes like this.

A doctor is not allowed to perform an invasive procedure on a patient until the doctor has told the patient what the procedure is, its risks and potential complications, as well as any alternative treatments and their risks and potential complications, and also the risks and potential complications of doing nothing at all.

Then the patient decides if the patient will have the procedure. But here is the problem. When the doctor tells the patient all this, does the patient have any idea what the doctor is actually saying? Here is what Mikkael A. Sekeres, M.D. and Timothy D. Gilligan, M.D. said in a New York Times OP/ED piece about a typical informed consent conversation.

Us: Blah blah blah.

You, as the patient, nod, and look like you’re paying close attention.

Us: Did you understand everything we said?

You: Yes.

Us: Any questions?

You: No.

A fundamental challenge with this process is that it is often unrealistic to think that you actually could be fully informed of what you’re about to undergo.  … If your doctor says that you’ll end up with a “simple iliac ileal conduit” or a “urostomy,” [you should] feel free to say “I don’t understand those words. Can you explain what that means?”

You see, the problem is we can’t understand the doctors because we are not doctors. We don’t understand the jargon. And our doctors are not often trained to put what they are telling us in laymen’s terms. So we don’t understand what they are saying (which we are afraid to admit), but they think we do. Which is why Sekeres and Gilligan recommend you ask for the doctors to tell you what the words they are using mean. Make sure you understand before you commit. This problem is not limited to doctors. It happens whenever someone uses jargon to explain something to someone unfamiliar with the language. Or worse, when someone who does not understand the jargon tries to use the jargon to explain something. It actually happens a lot when we talk about the Bible … what it says and what it means.

Come and hear more about this on Sunday, August 19 at 9:30 when Pastor Jeff preaches “Getting Directions” based on Acts 8: 26-39. We will look forward to seeing you.

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