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Viral nurse arrest underscores patient consent protections

The July 26 videotaped arrest of a Utah nurse for refusing to draw blood from an unconscious patient has appeared on television and social media. In addition to the almost universal condemnation of the police officer's rough treatment of the nurse, the footage spotlights the protections that patients facing drunk driving or drug charges have against police collecting blood samples in Utah, Maryland and across the country.

The 19-minute footage, from an officer's body camera, shows a Utah City police detective confronting a nurse at the University of Utah Hospital after her polite but persistent refusal against police obtaining samples from a seriously-injured patient because the police did not have a warrant and the unconscious patient could not provide consent. She also displayed a copy of this hospital policy.

The police officer tried to slap a phone from the nurse's hand, grabbed her, pushed her through automatic doors and out of the building and cuffed her hands behind her back. He forced her into a police vehicle and accused her of interfering with the investigation.

This episode followed a drunk driving incident earlier in the day. A suspect in a pickup truck was speeding away from police and crashed head-on into a truck driven by the person who became this patient. This victim was severely burned and was sedated by medics before being taken to the hospital. He was not suspected of a crime and the sample was supposedly intended to protect him.

The video is a dramatic depiction of patients' constitutional rights. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that there had to be probable cause and the issuance of a warrant before blood could be drawn from a patient. While there was no implied consent from the patient to draw his blood, it was still inapplicable because the police were trying to prove that patient was not under the influence.

Health professionals must protect the practitioner-patient relationship and refuse to take actions that serve legal purposes but are not medically necessary. These civil liberties should not be violated, especially if there are other testing methods. Nurses are usually trained about informed consent and most hospitals have patient consent policies.

Source: The Washington Post, "A Utah nurse's violent arrest puts patient-consent-law-and police conduct-in the spotlight," Amy B Wang and Derek Hawkins, Sept. 3

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