The Canterbury vs. Spence Legal Case


The Canterbury vs. Spence case law is a legal case that was decided in the United States in 1971. The case revolved around a doctor who a patient sued for negligence. The patient, Mr. Canterbury, had been injured in a car accident and had seen Dr. Spence for treatment. However, Mr. Canterbury claimed that Dr. Spence had been negligent in his treatment, had failed to diagnose his injuries properly, and sued Dr. Spence for negligence (Laurena, 2020). The court considered Mr. Canterbury’s allegations and found that Dr. Spence had been negligent when treating Mr. Canterbury. The court ruled that Dr. Spence breached a duty to provide proper care and treatment to his patients. The court ordered Dr. Spence to pay damages to Mr. Canterbury (Laurena, 2020). This case law is important because it established the legal duty doctors have to their patients and encouraged patients to sue doctors if they felt that the doctors breached their duty during treatment. This case file is considered a landmark regarding informed consent during the treatment of patients.

The Canterbury vs. Spence Case

Informed consent is a process of obtaining permission before carrying out a treatment intervention on a patient. This process ensures that patients are informed of the treatment and understand the risks and benefits involved. Informed consent is an ethical and legal requirement in many jurisdictions. One of the elements involved in informed consent is Information (Cumyn et al., 2020). The doctor must provide the patient with all information about the treatment procedure. Voluntariness is another element that enables the patient to decide without coercion, intimidation, or manipulation. Another element is comprehension, which ensures the patient understands the information that has been provided. If they have any questions, these must be answered to their satisfaction. Capacity is another crucial element that ensures the patient is legally and mentally capable of making sound decisions. It signifies that the patient must have attained the legal age and have the mental capacity to understand the information and make a decision. Lastly, there is an agreement, which gives the patient the freedom to agree or decline a treatment procedure, also referred to as giving informed consent.

The reasonable person standard is a legal term that describes the level of care an individual is expected to take to avoid harming others. This standard is used in tort law to access whether a person can be held accountable for damages caused by their actions. The reasonable person standard is also used in criminal law to determine whether a person’s actions can be held responsible for a crime committed. In this regard, Informed consent is essential in medical care because it gives patients the privilege to make informed decisions about their treatment. This includes understanding the risks and benefits of a proposed treatment and any alternatives available. Informed consent allows patients to understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to their care. It is based on the principle of autonomy, which is the right of every individual to make decisions about their own life and crucial healthcare decisions.

Informed consent has a significant role in healthcare procedures and practices. It ensures that patients receive the best possible care for their wishes and are fully aware of what the treatment entails. Informed consent enables patients to make informed decisions about their treatment and is more likely to comply with their treatment plan. In addition, medical practitioners observe patients’ rights because through informed consent. Patients can sue physicians if they feel their rights were violated. This is because they can make decisions about their care in line with their values and beliefs. Finally, informed consent promotes trust between patients and their healthcare givers. This is because patients feel at ease with the decisions they make about their healthcare and that their treatment team should respect their decisions.

Informed consent is a process in which the healthcare provider discloses information to the patient about the risks, benefits, and alternatives to a proposed treatment. The patient then has the opportunity to ask questions and make a decision about whether to proceed with the treatment. Informed consent is ethical because it respects the patient’s autonomy to make decisions about their healthcare. The principles of informed consent are important in ethical discussions because they help to protect the autonomy of patients and research subjects (Barrow & Khandhar, 2019). These principles require that individuals be given information about their condition and treatment options in a way that they can understand and be allowed to make decisions about their care without coercion. Informed consent also requires that individuals be given sufficient time to make decisions and that they be able to change their minds about their choices.


Finally, hospitals are responsible for ensuring that patients provide informed consent before treatment. This implies that the healthcare facilities must provide the necessary information on the proposed treatment. Hospitals should allow the patient to decide whether to proceed with treatment and respect the decisions made they make. Through breach of duty and failure to honor patient decisions, hospitals can be liable for if the patient sues the hospital for injuries inflicted.


Barrow, J. M., & Khandhar, P. B. (2019). Research Ethics.; StatPearls Publishing.

Cumyn, A., Barton, A., Dault, R., Cloutier, A., Jalbert, R., & Ethier, J. (2020). Informed consent within a learning health system: A scoping review. Learning Health Systems, 4(2).

Laurena. (2020). Canterbury v Spence – the birth of “informed consent.” Clinical Negligence, Law & Ethics.

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LawBirdie. "The Canterbury vs. Spence Legal Case." November 8, 2023.