Senior Research Scholar Bob Veatch recently commented on Canterbury vs. Spence for the Washington Post, highlighting a historic case in medical ethics and remembering the recently deceased plaintiff at its center.
In 1959, at 19, Jerry Canterbury agreed to undergo a spinal surgery described by his doctor as “no more serious than an ordinary, everyday operation.” After a fall in the hospital post-surgery, more operations followed that left him partially paralyzed and confined to a life on crutches, then a wheelchair, and finally a bed.
Mr. Canterbury sued his surgeon, William T. Spence, accusing him of having failed to adequately warn him of the risks of his surgery. “The physician ultimately prevailed,” writes the Post, “but a 1972 federal appeals court decision in the case became a foundation of the doctrine of informed consent and, by extension, the modern practice of medicine.”
In marking the case’s astounding importance, Dr. Veatch said he’s taught the events to more than 15,000 students and considers it “one of the most important in medical ethics.”