I received an email message today from a patient that prompted me to write about informed consent for tubal ligation. (See my previous blog about informed consent for tubal reversal.) Here is the message that was sent to me.
Hello, Dr. Berger,
You performed tubal reversal surgery on me on 10/29/07, and I just found out that I’m pregnant. Thank you so much! This is such a blessing. I filled out the report and have heard back from Sarah Meacham. I’ll make sure to follow her instructions.
I’m writing because I have a friend named Samantha who wants to get reversal surgery, but she would like to make sure she’s a candidate based on the information in her operative report. I told her that I would send it to you so you can look it over, so it’s attached. She and her husband have two cute little girls, but she agreed to the tubal ligation on the operating table after she gave birth to her youngest at the prodding of her doctor. She said that she made a terrible mistake and wants more children. And like me, no one she’s asked in south Florida will even consider the procedure that you do. When I told her about you, she was ecstatic. And now that I’m pregnant, she knows that it works!
Thank you again for the miracles you work for so many women. God bless you and your staff!
I was glad to hear that Amy was pregnant and had recommended to Samantha that she come here for her tubal reversal procedure, but this part of the message caught my attention:
“…she agreed to the tubal ligation on the operating table after she gave birth to her youngest at the prodding of her doctor. She said that she made a terrible mistake…”
What Is Informed Consent?
Before performing a tubal ligation – an elective operation – a doctor should always obtain the patient’s informed consent. Informed consent is the process through which the patient becomes educated about the procedure – including its benefits, risks and alternatives – and makes the decision to have the procedure performed. Informed consent implies that the patient fully understands the issues, has asked any questions she has, had her questions answered, and makes her decision under no duress. Adequate time should be allowed for a patient to think about all of the issues before consenting to the operation.
Should Consent For Tubal Ligation be Made During Childbirth?
Many tubal reversal patients have told me that the first time they discussed a tubal ligation with their doctor while they were on their way to the operating room for a C-section. Some regretted their decision while they were on the operating table or when they awoke in the recovery room. Other patients have said they had a tubal ligation in response to pressure from their spouse, parents, or their doctor. Labor and delivery is not the best time to think about an issue with such profound and lasting results as surgical sterilization. This should be discussed and thought about at leisure, not during the stress of childbirth.
Dr. Berger’s Comment
Besides the doctor’s responsibilities in obtaining informed consent, the patient also has a responsibility when giving it. A tubal ligation is not an emergency operation. Having a tubal ligation is a decision that should be carefully considered and not made in haste. There is adequate time during the pregnancy for a doctor and patient to discuss the issue of sterilization. Bringing this up for the first time on the way to the delivery room is a mistake, in my opinion. A more deliberate approach to the process of informed consent by both doctor and patient would help avoid mistaken decisions, such as in Samantha’s case.