Informed Consent: Advising Patients and Parents About Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies
Although research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies is still limited, systematic reviews have revealed sufficient evidence to conclude that CAM can be effective for certain conditions. In this article we discuss clinicians' responsibilities to inform parents/patients about CAM alternatives and use the example of acupuncture for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting remain significant adverse effects of cancer therapy, and some patients cannot find relief with standard therapies. When making decisions for a child with a life-threatening illness, parents must consider all reasonable options and decide what is in the child's best interests. A physician's failure to provide parents with relevant information regarding therapies with the prospect of therapeutic benefit impedes their ability to make an informed decision. Physicians have the ethical duty of beneficence; they must be aware of current research in pain and symptom management and other aspects of care. A physician's duty of care does not necessarily include the obligation to provide information about therapies outside the range of conventional treatment or those not yet supported in the medical literature. However, as CAM therapies such as acupuncture become better studied and their safety and efficacy are established, the scope of disclosure required may expand to include them. The legal and ethical obligation to obtain informed consent to treatment requires disclosure and discussion of therapies when there is reliable evidence of potential therapeutic benefit. At the same time, the more limited state of knowledge regarding effects of a particular therapy in the pediatric population must be factored into decision-making when treating a child.