When Assent Isn’t Confirmed

I’ve had this blog post floating around in my head for MONTHS now. I just haven’t quite known how to write it.

Let me explain a few things before I dive in.

Doctors go through extensive schooling and are incredibly well-trained professionals.

However, doctors do not know everything. Doctors are also human and they ALWAYS bring their own opinion into things.

Let’s take Theo’s family for example. In his family are three doctors, three nurses and an EMT. Occasionally, conversations will come up about what should be medically done in a situation. Let me tell you what: more often than not, all three doctors will have different opinions or different treatment ideas. None of them are wrong, they just all come at it from a different angle.

Here they all are this past summer discussing whether or not sweet Emma should get stitches, and who should do it:

But back to my original point: It’s so, so dangerous when assent isn’t actually confirmed.

Let me explain what I mean.

As parents/patients, we all sign forms before receiving any form of medical treatment affirming our consent. The exchange goes a little something like this:

Nurse: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Sign here.

Parent/Patient: Ok! *signs paper*

Assent is confirmed.

Woah. Woah. Woah. Stop right there.

Like I said above, doctors are wonderful people and I do believe that they are usually looking out for the best for their patients.

However, it’s EXTREMELY important that we as parents and patients are INFORMED of what we are consenting to.

Whenever our children are about to undergo a medical procedure, even one as simple as a breathing treatment, it is important that we understand WHY, WHAT will happen, HOW it will be done and that we know the potential side effects.

Last summer, I took Tera in to the pediatrician because she had a cold with a lingering cough that was keeping her up all night long. I wanted to get her tested for strep and pneumonia just to rule them out.  At the appointment, they tested her for strep and pneumonia, which were both negative. They listened to her lungs and told me that everything was clear, she just had a nasty cold that had to run it’s course. The next thing I know, the nurse is asking me what type of mask she would like for her breathing treatment. I was baffled. Breathing treatment? I immediately called Theo and asked him if he thought a breathing treatment was a good idea. I mean, they had just told me that her lungs were clear. I asked the nurse what was included in the breathing treatment, and she mentioned albuteral. A little red flag began waving in my head and thankfully I heeded it. I asked the doctor, “Do you really think she needs a breathing treatment?” And get this…the doctor responded, “No. It will just make her and you feel a little better.”

Um, what.

Here’s the thing. Most people around here know that I’m not a huge fan of our doctor. After the whole FTT issue and the above scenario, I’m sure you are thinking that I am taking my children to a incompetent jerk who has no idea what she’s doing. But that this not the case, I assure you. And I also assure you that there are many, many doctors out there who are recommending similar treatments that are simply not needed.

I had a friend ask me why this was such a big deal, and if it was going to make Tera feel better, why we didn’t accept it.

Here’s why. Albuterol is an addictive steroid that literally gives a high. It opens up the vessels in the lungs and makes it easier to breath when the lungs are tight from muscle spasms (like asthma). I know firsthand because I took albuterol for years as a child for my asthma. After an albuterol treatment, I would literally be shaking like I was on an adrenaline high. It is also highly addictive and our lungs learn to depend on it. Whenever we struggle to breath, our lungs can either get stronger, or become more dependent on an aid like albuterol. Of course, if and albuteral treatment is neccessary for my child, I’m 100% for it. I believe that God gave us modern medicine to use. But we need to use it wisely. But in this case, by the doctors own admission, my child did not need it. She wasn’t having any trouble breathing.

This is just one example in a long line of problems that I have seen in the doctors office. Another example would be the lack of information around vaccines. I’m not debating the issue of whether or not we should vaccinate. I’m simply saying that most doctors don’t inform their patients of what the vaccine is, what it’s for, what is in it, what the side effects can be, why it’s mixed with three other vaccines, etc. Or how about anti-biotics? They are actually so incredibly bad for us. Yes, they get rid of ear infections are neccessary when we have infections, but how many times have we taken them or given them to our children when their natural anti-bodies could have just as easily killed off the infetion?

Listen. I’m not anti-vaccine. I’m not anti-albuterol. I’n not anti-antibiotics. I’m not anti-doctor.

I’m simply pro-information. I’m pro-questions. I’m telling myself and my fellow parents that we cannot blindly trust everything a doctor says. We need to not live in fear of their extensive and well-deserved degrees, but instead stand up and ask for a little bit more information.

We need to make sure that we are informed before we consent.

For me, this looks like reading up on the vaccines before my child gets them. It looks like calling up one of the doctors in my family and asking them if this treatment option is a good idea. It means choosing a doctor who cares for our children and listening to them when they make recommendations, but also being willing to ask for more information. This means asking questions before signing on the dotted line. This means reading through the papers that the nurse handed me. This means asking which vaccines are going into my child’s body so that I know exactly what I’m dealing with.

Ultimately, though, there is another part of this. It means that I don’t put full confidence in my doctors. YES, they are way smarter than me and their is a myriad of very good reasons that I take my children to them. But ultimately, my full confidence in the health of my children is in the hands of the greatest Doctor, who knows all and sees all. He loves my children just as I do and nothing is impossible for him. He has given us human doctors to help us, but there comes a time when all human wisdom and medicine is nothing, and we have to turn from putting all our blind trust in modern medicine, and instead trust in Creator of our very lives.

Now, THAT is informed consent.




  1. Nancy says:

    Well said. I remember when you were in the hospital with one of your asthma attacks (after we had gotten you to Niamey after that horrible experience in the Tera hospital). They diagnosed it as pneumonia … and soon after Joshua (now the Director of SIM) told us you had all the classic symptoms of asthma. But anyway, the nurse came in with a needle. I asked him what he was going to give you and he said Quinine. I asked why he was giving you Quinine when you didn’t have malaria. I put up a big fuss and he went and asked the doctor and I managed to convince her that you didn’t have a single solitary symptom of malaria and that I didn’t want you to have the Quinine. I know that here in general, it’s not a bad thing to do … the body is weak, the immune system is struggling, malaria can be easily caught. In general a malaria treatment doesn’t hurt. But I knew you were taking an anti-malarial and I didn’t want you having medicine you didn’t really need. So yeah, I agree. Ask questions. Refuse treatment if it really seems unnecessary. Maybe knowing the right questions to ask is the biggest part of the whole thing.

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