To consent someone, or not to consent someone… Should that be the question?

Guest post by Emma Ashworth

Consent form image

“To consent someone”.  Is this something that can be done to a person? Who is doing this action, the person seeking consent – or the person giving it? What effect on care does the phrase “I’m going to consent her” actually have? It’s just a phrase, just words, we know what it means, we know what we’re doing, we KNOW we’re going out to seek consent.

Maybe you do – but what about the next staff member who hears you say this, what do they hear? Do they hear the passiveness of the woman that is implied in the phrase “I’ll consent her”? Do they absorb the sense of an action done to her rather than the woman making decisions for herself and the woman being the only person who actually has control over the situation?

What happens when you go to consent her, and she declines? You’ve not achieved your aim, you’ve not fulfilled the expectations of the verb in the way that you used it. That might be fine for you, but for those who have heard you, for that culture that is built around the woman’s implied passiveness, every time the phrase “I’ll consent her” is used another brick is placed in that wall of expectation, the expectation of compliance.

Let’s change that language.  Imagine: Instead of going to “consent her”, you go to ask her for her decision, and if her decision is that she wishes to accept an intervention that you will undertake, you request her formal consent in writing? What happens to the dynamic of the situation when the person who is doing the consenting, the person being the active voice, is the person who controls that verb? How does just tweeking a sentence change the way that the room portrays the only person in the room who calls the shots? How does entering a room without the outcome being a foregone conclusion in your mind change how you approach that woman?

“I’m going to consent her…”

“I’m going to ask if she consents…”