What is Uninformed Consent?

Continuing the conversation of consent, I have realized consent has more layers than the simple, informed discussion that leads to a yes or no reply or signature. I am aware that as a society, we struggle with the idea of what consent truly means and how to use it in every circumstance. With that being, when someone asks the question, “What do you want in a relationship?” most reply with the simple “I do not know” then, a follow-up question occurs with “Well if you know what you want.. What don’t you want?” Most likely, after that question, the majority of people have a laundry list of characteristics and negatives of what they do not want in a partner. That laundry list leads to one finding what they do want, its a start, so why can’t we do that for consent? 

One example of uninformed consent is Madrigal v Quilligan, a class-action lawsuit against L.A. County doctors, the state, and the federal government, which included ten working-class Mexican-origin women who had been coerced into sterilization after undergoing cesarean deliveries. In the article No Más Bebés,” revives 1975 forced-sterilization lawsuit in L.A” Consuelo Hermosillo, one of the ten expresses her story of being forced into sterilization. 

“At 23, Hermosillo was having her third child with her husband. But before she could be seen by the doctor, she was asked to sign papers consenting to sterilization.

“You better sign those papers or your baby is going to die,” a woman told her in Spanish, recalled Hermosillo, a native of Veracruz, Mexico. “As soon as you sign, they’ll take you in.”

Hermosillo didn’t want to sign. She was too young and wanted to speak with her husband first. Leaving the hospital, however, she carried the last child she would ever be able to conceive.

“I don’t remember signing the consent form,” said Hermosillo, now 66. “They decided for me.” 

Without a doubt, this is nonconsensual due to the language barrier, powerful words, and the sensitive situation of the women being pregnant. How is someone who speaks another language going to understand what is going to happen? Using pressure and the job at hand to decide on the spot is unlawful. It is noted that the demand for sterilization was to keep the immigration population under control during the 1970s. All together, we can see the intent of these doctors was malicious, and these women lost control of there bodies, and lifestyle all due to lack of communication. 

In the novel, Clay’s Ark by Octava Buttler is another example of how the idea of consent is thrown out the window. Blake and his twin daughters Kiera and Rane, are kidnapped by a group of people who withhold a disease that can be transmitted by touch. This disease has life-threating consequences. Eli and Meda, the ring leaders of the group, explain to Blake and his daughters will be given an organism that co-hosts with them. “We got together and decided that for your sake and ours, people in your position should be protected from too much truth too soon. I was the minority of one, voting for honesty… The others thought people like you wouldn’t believe the truth, that it would scare you more than necessary and you’d try harder to escape.” (Buttler, 471). Eli gives the notion that is was a group decision to kidnap people, infected them, and then later tell them the truth behind the organism. Not only is the way they are infected people is nonconsensual, but how one is infected another way consent is not a factor.

“Have I been infected?”

She turned her head to look at him, smiled sadly. “Oh yes.”

 “The Food?” 

“No. The food was just food. Me.”


“No inoculation…”

“You would have done that even if I hadn’t had the knife?” He asked 

“Yes” (Buttler, 485-86)

Buttler clearly shows that Blake and his daughter Rane have no say in wanting to receive the disease. Kidnapping is the unlawful action of taking someone with force and keeping that person in detention under their will. Now when analyzing Clay’s Ark, there is a distinct notion that consent is not even a factor due to kidnapping and giving them a disease they did not ask for. 

With the court case Madrigal v Quilligan and the novel Clay’s Ark, there is a pattern of unconfirmed consent when it comes to the people involved. That one person or group has already made the preconceived notion of making the decision to infected or alter someone else’s life. The characteristics of unconfirmed consent are also shown in the book Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. Ebb Cade, an African American truck driver, was in an accident that left the majority of his bones broken, but he was able to survive this accident, but with his survival came a price. Doctor Robert S. Stone expresses this story with his colleague Doctor Karl Z. Morgan, “he was rushed to the military hospital .. and he had multiple fractures. Almost all his bones were broken, and we were surprised he was alive when he got to the hospital; we did not expect him to be alive the next morning. So this was an opportunity we’ve been waiting for. We gave him large doses by injection of plutonium-239” (Washington, 216). Plutonium-239 is an isotope of plutonium. Plutonium-239 is the primary fissile isotope used for the production of nuclear weapons. These doctors injected a black male with a dangerous chemical at a large dose without his consent. “On April 10, without his consent and five days before setting his broken bones, military physical Jospeh Howland injected Cade with 4.7 micrograms of plutonium– forty-one times the normal lifetime exposure.” (Washington, 217) In this case, it is a clear understanding that these Doctors took advantage of this man’s life to experiment with the process of decay or reaction when plutonium en into the body. These doctors, for a matter of six months, held Cadd and tested him until Cadd one day finally escaped. Another example of how, when looking for the characteristics of what uninformed consent is, making sure the person in the vulnerable state is oblivious and unaware of the situation. 

Overall, when looking at the case of Ebb Cadd and Madrigal v Quilligan and the novel Clay’s Ark, there are three examples of uninformed consent. Each situation lack of communication about the procedure, injection, or the infection. Not only there is a lack of communication, but there is also a common thread of the people being manipulated are the minority. With Ebb Cadd and Madrigal v Quilligan both people of color, Cadd being African American and the women apart of other cases coming from Mexican descent. With Clay’s Ark, Blake being a white male in the slums, he is taken out of his standard atmosphere and made the minority, with his daughters being half white and black, they are automatically put into the minority category due there skin color.

Additionally, there is a pattern of gain out of the people who are in control of the situations. As well these people had no repercussions for there actions during these cases. When looking at the examples and the apparent notion of what uninformed consent is.  

What is informed consent?

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