Informing for consent: The challenges across language, culture and gender


  • Sue Saunders Former Senior Lecturer in Human Relations at the Wellington College of Education Counsellor at Fertility Associates in Hamilton.
  • Allyson Davys Has been working in social work and allied social services for 30 years, with a focus on counselling, training and education, and supervision; in government and non government agencies. Also involved in developing and delivering supervision practice Currently employed half time as a senior lecturer at Auckland University and in private practice as a trainer and supervisor.


health social work, informed consent, medical consent, language barriers,


Requirements to obtain informed consent prior to any significant medical intervention are covered by legislation and, for New Zealand social workers and counsellors, by their codes of ethics. The essential elements of informed consent are effective communication, full information and that it is voluntary and free from coercion. The complexity of obtaining informed consent, when working with language barriers and between cultures is the focus of this paper. An immigrant, Muslim couple was referred to a fertility clinic for treatment. The woman was non-English speaking whilst her husband spoke enough English to get in a tangle. They were insistent that they use the husband’s brother as an interpreter, an accepted and preferred practice within their culture but one which fell short of the requirements for interpretation of medical, clinical and ethical information. Combined with cultural limitations about what a man can discuss with his sister-in-law, the brother’s interpreting was not only inadequate but incorrect and the process silenced the woman’s voice. The paper follows this complex case. It highlights the challenges to obtaining informed consent and identifies the steps taken to provide clear boundaries within which the communication could proceed between all parties and to thus ensure consent was well informed.


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How to Cite

Saunders, S., & Davys, A. (2022). Informing for consent: The challenges across language, culture and gender. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 19(2), 12–21. Retrieved from