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Healthcare is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing industries, consuming a substantial chunk of the labour force and receiving good deal of patronage from customers referred to in the health industry as patients1. Accompanying this high utilization of medical services has been the concern for measures aimed at safeguarding and promoting patients’ right to quality healthcare delivery. The right to healthcare for patients transcends national boundaries. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights 2 states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, etc. In Ghana, Article 30 of the 1992 Constitution stipulates that “a person who by reason of sickness or any other cause is unable to give his consent shall not be deprived by any other person of medical treatment, education or any other social or economic benefit by reason only of religious or other beliefs.”
1 Public expectation. From paternalism to partnership: changing relationships
in health and health services”, Policy Futures for UK Health, available at: www.jbs.cam.
ac.uk/research/centres/cuh/polfutures/pdf/reports/expectations.pdf (accessed 20 January
2 M., Swan, J.E. and Koehler, W.F. (1994), “What attributes determine the quality and
satisfaction with healthcare delivery?”, Healthcare Management Review, Vol. 19 No. 4,
The breadth of the language employed by these two instruments gives an indication of the level of importance attached to healthcare service quality and safety. In Nigeria this right is not constitutionally guaranteed, the Common law position on the right to give informed consent in medical treatment or medical experimentation applies in the country.
The provision of services in line with the wish and needs of patients is central to a humane healthcare system3 This involves considerate and courteous treatment of patients, good communication and information giving, and a healthy environment.4 complaints about hospital or care experiences are heard (Wensing and Elwyn, 2003).
The point of departure in this article is the Constitution being the supreme law; everything and everybody is sub-ject to the Constitution. The Constitution is the source of the citizens’ rights and sets out catalogue of rights. However, those rights relevant to this topic are: the right to life; the right to human dignity; the right to freedom from discrimination; the right to personal liberty;8 the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Apart from the
3 See Slabbert and Van der Westhuizen when submitting in a similar respect on the issue of euthanasia. See Slabbert, M & Van der Westhuizen, C “Death with Dignity in lieu of Euthanasia” 2007 22(2) SAPR/Public Law 366; see also, Straus “The ‘Right to die’ or ‘Passive euthanasia’: two important decisions, one American and the other Ghanan” 1993 (6) SACJ 196-208.
4 See Chapter IV of the Constitution which provides for the various rights
Constitution, other sources of a patient’s rights in Nigeria include the Common Law, International Convention and Professional Code of conduct, in particular medical profession code of conduct. In as much as the article does not pretend to lay claim to an exhaustive discussion on all legal issues and rights of a patient vis-à-vis his/her health care providers, this paper shall, however, endeavour to provide a catalogue of a patient’s rights under the Nigerian laws. The article shall also attempt providing guidance to the health care providers in order not to run fowl of the law of the land or breach the fundamental rights of their patients.
This article is divided into five parts. Following this introduction, the article consists of the following parts: Part two discusses the meanings of the major terms used in this article. Part three examines the legal rights of patients in Nigeria in comparison with that of Ghana. In this part, the right to life, the right to human dignity, the right to personal liberty, the right of a patient to give an informed consent to treatment and the rights to privacy and self-determination are discussed. In part four, the article discusses the vexed question of whether the rights of a surgical patient include the right to die while conclusion forms the fifth part.
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