Unconscious patients in emergency rooms in the US are often being treated with experimental drugs or unapproved medical devices without their consent.
Patients who have refused to give blood samples have been strapped down, and patients at one Rhode Island hospital were forced to participate in a blood glucose study.
These alarming findings have been reported by a US House of Representatives subcommittee following a year-long investigation, according to The Lancet (30 April, 1994).
In another case, a hospital committee in Minnesota decided to approve resuscitation attempts on children as young as eight years with a device designed for 18-year-olds. The House subcommittee was so astonished that it thought it was reading a typographical error.
The subcommittee said the laws governing informed consent in the US are too vague. New guidelines are needed to both protect patients while taking into account the difficulties of conducting research in emergency situations when the patient is too ill to give consent but needs treatment without delay.