The rights of patients to decide what happens to their body parts following a surgery does not end at the decision to remove said body part.
Often, there is a significant amount of personal and cultural significance tied to these tissues, and it is a core part of a doctor’s legal responsibilities and duty of care to not only understand the correct procedure for the disposal of body parts, but to ensure the patient also understands the principles of informed consent.
Related content: Informed consent: what doctors need to know.
Under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights, health professionals must gain informed consent from the patient not only about the procedure involved in removing body parts, but also about the storage, utilisation and disposal of the removed body parts. Processes must also be in place for the safe return of the body part, if requested by the patient.
Right 7(9) of the Code states, “Every consumer has the right to make a decision about the return or disposal of any body parts or bodily substances removed or obtained in the course of a health care procedure”.
Right 7(10) states, “Any body parts or bodily substances removed or obtained in the course of a health care procedure may be stored, preserved, or utilised only with the informed consent of the consumer.”
In relation to a deceased person, the Human Tissue Act 2008 (“the Act”) sets out the consent framework for the collection and use of collection and use of tissue. The Act provides for a hierarchy for other people who may consent (or object) if no one above them in the hierarchy has consented or objected. In order, these parties are the individual, the individual’s nominee, the individual’s immediate family and a close available relative of the individual.
In short, patients and their families have significant rights in regards to the storage, return and disposal of any materials removed from their person during the course of their medical care. It is integral that medical professionals understand this and the hierarchy of decision involved.
Current as at 19 September 2018
For more information about the rights of patients and your responsibilities as a doctor, get in touch with NZMPI’s dedicated medico-legal advisory team.