G.R. No. 165279. Jun 07, 2011 (666 Phil. 29)


Challenged in this petition for review on certiorari is the Decision[1] dated June 15, 2004 as well as the Resolution[2] dated September 1, 2004 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 58013 which modified the Decision[3] dated September 5, 1997 of the Regional Trial Court of Legazpi City, Branch 8 in Civil Case No. 8904.

The factual antecedents:

On July 7, 1993, respondents' 11-year old daughter, Angelica Soliman, underwent a biopsy of the mass located in her lower extremity at the St. Luke's Medical Center (SLMC). Results showed that Angelica was suffering from osteosarcoma, osteoblastic type,[4] a high-grade (highly malignant) cancer of the bone which usually afflicts teenage children. Following this diagnosis and as primary intervention, Angelica's right leg was amputated by Dr. Jaime Tamayo in order to remove the tumor. As adjuvant treatment to eliminate any remaining cancer cells, and hence minimize the chances of recurrence and prevent the disease from spreading to other parts of the patient's body (metastasis), chemotherapy was suggested by Dr. Tamayo. Dr. Tamayo referred Angelica to another doctor at SLMC, herein petitioner Dr. Rubi Li, a medical oncologist.

On August 18, 1993, Angelica was admitted to SLMC. However, she died on September 1, 1993, just eleven (11) days after the (intravenous) administration of the first cycle of the chemotherapy regimen. Because SLMC refused to release a death certificate without full payment of their hospital bill, respondents brought the cadaver of Angelica to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory at Camp Crame for post-mortem examination. The Medico-Legal Report issued by said institution indicated the cause of death as "Hypovolemic shock secondary to multiple organ hemorrhages and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation."[5]

On the other hand, the Certificate of Death[6] issued by SLMC stated the cause of death as follows:

Immediate cause : a. Osteosarcoma, Status Post AKA
Antecedent cause : b. (above knee amputation)
Underlying cause : c. Status Post Chemotherapy

On February 21, 1994, respondents filed a damage suit[7] against petitioner, Dr. Leo Marbella, Mr. Jose Ledesma, a certain Dr. Arriete and SLMC. Respondents charged them with negligence and disregard of Angelica's safety, health and welfare by their careless administration of the chemotherapy drugs, their failure to observe the essential precautions in detecting early the symptoms of fatal blood platelet decrease and stopping early on the chemotherapy, which bleeding led to hypovolemic shock that caused Angelica's untimely demise. Further, it was specifically averred that petitioner assured the respondents that Angelica would recover in view of 95% chance of healing with chemotherapy ("Magiging normal na ang anak nyo basta ma-chemo. 95% ang healing") and when asked regarding the side effects, petitioner mentioned only slight vomiting, hair loss and weakness ("Magsusuka ng kaunti. Malulugas ang buhok. Manghihina"). Respondents thus claimed that they would not have given their consent to chemotherapy had petitioner not falsely assured them of its side effects.

In her answer,[8] petitioner denied having been negligent in administering the chemotherapy drugs to Angelica and asserted that she had fully explained to respondents how the chemotherapy will affect not only the cancer cells but also the patient's normal body parts, including the lowering of white and red blood cells and platelets. She claimed that what happened to Angelica can be attributed to malignant tumor cells possibly left behind after surgery. Few as they may be, these have the capacity to compete for nutrients such that the body becomes so weak structurally (cachexia) and functionally in the form of lower resistance of the body to combat infection. Such infection becomes uncontrollable and triggers a chain of events (sepsis or septicemia) that may lead to bleeding in the form of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), as what the autopsy report showed in the case of Angelica.

Since the medical records of Angelica were not produced in court, the trial and appellate courts had to rely on testimonial evidence, principally the declarations of petitioner and respondents themselves. The following chronology of events was gathered:

On July 23, 1993, petitioner saw the respondents at the hospital after Angelica's surgery and discussed with them Angelica's condition. Petitioner told respondents that Angelica should be given two to three weeks to recover from the operation before starting chemotherapy. Respondents were apprehensive due to financial constraints as Reynaldo earns only from P70,000.00 to P150,000.00 a year from his jewelry and watch repairing business.[9] Petitioner, however, assured them not to worry about her professional fee and told them to just save up for the medicines to be used.

Petitioner claimed that she explained to respondents that even when a tumor is removed, there are still small lesions undetectable to the naked eye, and that adjuvant chemotherapy is needed to clean out the small lesions in order to lessen the chance of the cancer to recur. She did not give the respondents any assurance that chemotherapy will cure Angelica's cancer. During these consultations with respondents, she explained the following side effects of chemotherapy treatment to respondents: (1) falling hair; (2) nausea and vomiting; (3) loss of appetite; (4) low count of white blood cells [WBC], red blood cells [RBC] and platelets; (5) possible sterility due to the effects on Angelica's ovary; (6) damage to the heart and kidneys; and (7) darkening of the skin especially when exposed to sunlight. She actually talked with respondents four times, once at the hospital after the surgery, twice at her clinic and the fourth time when Angelica's mother called her through long distance.[10] This was disputed by respondents who countered that petitioner gave them assurance that there is 95% chance of healing for Angelica if she undergoes chemotherapy and that the only side effects were nausea, vomiting and hair loss.[11] Those were the only side-effects of chemotherapy treatment mentioned by petitioner.[12]

On July 27, 1993, SLMC discharged Angelica, with instruction from petitioner that she be readmitted after two or three weeks for the chemotherapy.

On August 18, 1993, respondents brought Angelica to SLMC for chemotherapy, bringing with them the results of the laboratory tests requested by petitioner: Angelica's chest x-ray, ultrasound of the liver, creatinine and complete liver function tests.[13] Petitioner proceeded with the chemotherapy by first administering hydration fluids to Angelica.[14]

The following day, August 19, petitioner began administering three chemotherapy drugs - Cisplatin,[15] Doxorubicin[16] and Cosmegen[17] - intravenously. Petitioner was supposedly assisted by her trainees Dr. Leo Marbella[18] and Dr. Grace Arriete.[19] In his testimony, Dr. Marbella denied having any participation in administering the said chemotherapy drugs.[20]

On the second day of chemotherapy, August 20, respondents noticed reddish discoloration on Angelica's face.[21] They asked petitioner about it, but she merely quipped, "Wala yan. Epekto ng gamot."[22] Petitioner recalled noticing the skin rashes on the nose and cheek area of Angelica. At that moment, she entertained the possibility that Angelica also had systemic lupus and consulted Dr. Victoria Abesamis on the matter.[23]

On the third day of chemotherapy, August 21, Angelica had difficulty breathing and was thus provided with oxygen inhalation apparatus. This time, the reddish discoloration on Angelica's face had extended to her neck, but petitioner dismissed it again as merely the effect of medicines.[24] Petitioner testified that she did not see any discoloration on Angelica's face, nor did she notice any difficulty in the child's breathing. She claimed that Angelica merely complained of nausea and was given ice chips.[25]

On August 22, 1993, at around ten o'clock in the morning, upon seeing that their child could not anymore bear the pain, respondents pleaded with petitioner to stop the chemotherapy. Petitioner supposedly replied: "Dapat 15 Cosmegen pa iyan. Okay, let's observe. If pwede na, bigyan uli ng chemo." At this point, respondents asked petitioner's permission to bring their child home. Later in the evening, Angelica passed black stool and reddish urine.[26] Petitioner countered that there was no record of blackening of stools but only an episode of loose bowel movement (LBM). Petitioner also testified that what Angelica complained of was carpo-pedal spasm, not convulsion or epileptic attack, as respondents call it (petitioner described it in the vernacular as "naninigas ang kamay at paa"). She then requested for a serum calcium determination and stopped the chemotherapy. When Angelica was given calcium gluconate, the spasm and numbness subsided.[27]

The following day, August 23, petitioner yielded to respondents' request to take Angelica home. But prior to discharging Angelica, petitioner requested for a repeat serum calcium determination and explained to respondents that the chemotherapy will be temporarily stopped while she observes Angelica's muscle twitching and serum calcium level. Take-home medicines were also prescribed for Angelica, with instructions to respondents that the serum calcium test will have to be repeated after seven days. Petitioner told respondents that she will see Angelica again after two weeks, but respondents can see her anytime if any immediate problem arises.[28]

However, Angelica remained in confinement because while still in the premises of SLMC, her "convulsions" returned and she also had LBM. Angelica was given oxygen and administration of calcium continued.[29]

The next day, August 24, respondents claimed that Angelica still suffered from convulsions. They also noticed that she had a fever and had difficulty breathing.[30] Petitioner insisted it was carpo-pedal spasm, not convulsions. She verified that at around 4:50 that afternoon, Angelica developed difficulty in breathing and had fever. She then requested for an electrocardiogram analysis, and infused calcium gluconate on the patient at a "stat dose." She further ordered that Angelica be given Bactrim,[31] a synthetic antibacterial combination drug,[32] to combat any infection on the child's body.[33]

By August 26, Angelica was bleeding through the mouth. Respondents also saw blood on her anus and urine. When Lina asked petitioner what was happening to her daughter, petitioner replied, "Bagsak ang platelets ng anak mo." Four units of platelet concentrates were then transfused to Angelica. Petitioner prescribed Solucortef. Considering that Angelica's fever was high and her white blood cell count was low, petitioner prescribed Leucomax. About four to eight bags of blood, consisting of packed red blood cells, fresh whole blood, or platelet concentrate, were transfused to Angelica. For two days (August 27 to 28), Angelica continued bleeding, but petitioner claimed it was lesser in amount and in frequency. Petitioner also denied that there were gadgets attached to Angelica at that time.[34]

On August 29, Angelica developed ulcers in her mouth, which petitioner said were blood clots that should not be removed. Respondents claimed that Angelica passed about half a liter of blood through her anus at around seven o'clock that evening, which petitioner likewise denied.

On August 30, Angelica continued bleeding. She was restless as endotracheal and nasogastric tubes were inserted into her weakened body. An aspiration of the nasogastric tube inserted to Angelica also revealed a bloody content. Angelica was given more platelet concentrate and fresh whole blood, which petitioner claimed improved her condition. Petitioner told Angelica not to remove the endotracheal tube because this may induce further bleeding.[35] She was also transferred to the intensive care unit to avoid infection.

The next day, respondents claimed that Angelica became hysterical, vomited blood and her body turned black. Part of Angelica's skin was also noted to be shredding by just rubbing cotton on it. Angelica was so restless she removed those gadgets attached to her, saying "Ayaw ko na"; there were tears in her eyes and she kept turning her head. Observing her daughter to be at the point of death, Lina asked for a doctor but the latter could not answer her anymore.[36] At this time, the attending physician was Dr. Marbella who was shaking his head saying that Angelica's platelets were down and respondents should pray for their daughter. Reynaldo claimed that he was introduced to a pediatrician who took over his daughter's case, Dr. Abesamis who also told him to pray for his daughter. Angelica continued to have difficulty in her breathing and blood was being suctioned from her stomach. A nurse was posted inside Angelica's room to assist her breathing and at one point they had to revive Angelica by pumping her chest. Thereafter, Reynaldo claimed that Angelica already experienced difficulty in urinating and her bowel consisted of blood-like fluid. Angelica requested for an electric fan as she was in pain. Hospital staff attempted to take blood samples from Angelica but were unsuccessful because they could not even locate her vein. Angelica asked for a fruit but when it was given to her, she only smelled it. At this time, Reynaldo claimed he could not find either petitioner or Dr. Marbella. That night, Angelica became hysterical and started removing those gadgets attached to her. At three o'clock in the morning of September 1, a priest came and they prayed before Angelica expired. Petitioner finally came back and supposedly told respondents that there was "malfunction" or bogged-down machine.[37]

By petitioner's own account, Angelica was merely irritable that day (August 31). Petitioner noted though that Angelica's skin was indeed sloughing off.[38] She stressed that at 9:30 in the evening, Angelica pulled out her endotracheal tube.[39] On September 1, exactly two weeks after being admitted at SLMC for chemotherapy, Angelica died.[40] The cause of death, according to petitioner, was septicemia, or overwhelming infection, which caused Angelica's other organs to fail.[41] Petitioner attributed this to the patient's poor defense mechanism brought about by the cancer itself.[42]

While he was seeking the release of Angelica's cadaver from SLMC, Reynaldo claimed that petitioner acted arrogantly and called him names. He was asked to sign a promissory note as he did not have cash to pay the hospital bill.[43]

Respondents also presented as witnesses Dr. Jesusa Nieves-Vergara, Medico-Legal Officer of the PNP-Crime Laboratory who conducted the autopsy on Angelica's cadaver, and Dr. Melinda Vergara Balmaceda who is a Medical Specialist employed at the Department of Health (DOH) Operations and Management Services.

Testifying on the findings stated in her medico-legal report, Dr. Vergara noted the following: (1) there were fluids recovered from the abdominal cavity, which is not normal, and was due to hemorrhagic shock secondary to bleeding; (2) there was hemorrhage at the left side of the heart; (3) bleeding at the upper portion of and areas adjacent to, the esophagus; (4) lungs were heavy with bleeding at the back and lower portion, due to accumulation of fluids; (4) yellowish discoloration of the liver; (5) kidneys showed appearance of facial shock on account of hemorrhages; and (6) reddishness on external surface of the spleen. All these were the end result of "hypovolemic shock secondary to multiple organ hemorrhages and disseminated intravascular coagulation." Dr. Vergara opined that this can be attributed to the chemical agents in the drugs given to the victim, which caused platelet reduction resulting to bleeding sufficient to cause the victim's death. The time lapse for the production of DIC in the case of Angelica (from the time of diagnosis of sarcoma) was too short, considering the survival rate of about 3 years. The witness conceded that the victim will also die of osteosarcoma even with amputation or chemotherapy, but in this case Angelica's death was not caused by osteosarcoma. Dr. Vergara admitted that she is not a pathologist but her statements were based on the opinion of an oncologist whom she had interviewed. This oncologist supposedly said that if the victim already had DIC prior to the chemotherapy, the hospital staff could have detected it.[44]

On her part, Dr. Balmaceda declared that it is the physician's duty to inform and explain to the patient or his relatives every known side effect of the procedure or therapeutic agents to be administered, before securing the consent of the patient or his relatives to such procedure or therapy. The physician thus bases his assurance to the patient on his personal assessment of the patient's condition and his knowledge of the general effects of the agents or procedure that will be allowed on the patient. Dr. Balmaceda stressed that the patient or relatives must be informed of all known side effects based on studies and observations, even if such will aggravate the patient's condition.[45]

Dr. Jaime Tamayo, the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on Angelica's lower extremity, testified for the defendants. He explained that in case of malignant tumors, there is no guarantee that the ablation or removal of the amputated part will completely cure the cancer. Thus, surgery is not enough. The mortality rate of osteosarcoma at the time of modern chemotherapy and early diagnosis still remains at 80% to 90%. Usually, deaths occur from metastasis, or spread of the cancer to other vital organs like the liver, causing systemic complications. The modes of therapy available are the removal of the primary source of the cancerous growth and then the residual cancer cells or metastasis should be treated with chemotherapy. Dr. Tamayo further explained that patients with osteosarcoma have poor defense mechanism due to the cancer cells in the blood stream. In the case of Angelica, he had previously explained to her parents that after the surgical procedure, chemotherapy is imperative so that metastasis of these cancer cells will hopefully be addressed. He referred the patient to petitioner because he felt that petitioner is a competent oncologist. Considering that this type of cancer is very aggressive and will metastasize early, it will cause the demise of the patient should there be no early intervention (in this case, the patient developed sepsis which caused her death). Cancer cells in the blood cannot be seen by the naked eye nor detected through bone scan. On cross-examination, Dr. Tamayo stated that of the more than 50 child patients who had osteogenic sarcoma he had handled, he thought that probably all of them died within six months from amputation because he did not see them anymore after follow-up; it is either they died or had seen another doctor.[46]

In dismissing the complaint, the trial court held that petitioner was not liable for damages as she observed the best known procedures and employed her highest skill and knowledge in the administration of chemotherapy drugs on Angelica but despite all efforts said patient died. It cited the testimony of Dr. Tamayo who testified that he considered petitioner one of the most proficient in the treatment of cancer and that the patient in this case was afflicted with a very aggressive type of cancer necessitating chemotherapy as adjuvant treatment. Using the standard of negligence laid down in Picart v. Smith,[47] the trial court declared that petitioner has taken the necessary precaution against the adverse effect of chemotherapy on the patient, adding that a wrong decision is not by itself negligence. Respondents were ordered to pay their unpaid hospital bill in the amount of P139,064.43.[48]

Respondents appealed to the CA which, while concurring with the trial court's finding that there was no negligence committed by the petitioner in the administration of chemotherapy treatment to Angelica, found that petitioner as her attending physician failed to fully explain to the respondents all the known side effects of chemotherapy. The appellate court stressed that since the respondents have been told of only three side effects of chemotherapy, they readily consented thereto. Had petitioner made known to respondents those other side effects which gravely affected their child -- such as carpo-pedal spasm, sepsis, decrease in the blood platelet count, bleeding, infections and eventual death -- respondents could have decided differently or adopted a different course of action which could have delayed or prevented the early death of their child.

The CA thus declared:
Plaintiffs-appellants' child was suffering from a malignant disease. The attending physician recommended that she undergo chemotherapy treatment after surgery in order to increase her chances of survival. Appellants consented to the chemotherapy treatment because they believed in Dr. Rubi Li's representation that the deceased would have a strong chance of survival after chemotherapy and also because of the representation of appellee Dr. Rubi Li that there were only three possible side-effects of the treatment. However, all sorts of painful side-effects resulted from the treatment including the premature death of Angelica. The appellants were clearly and totally unaware of these other side-effects which manifested only during the chemotherapy treatment. This was shown by the fact that every time a problem would take place regarding Angelica's condition (like an unexpected side-effect manifesting itself), they would immediately seek explanation from Dr. Rubi Li. Surely, those unexpected side-effects culminating in the loss of a love[d] one caused the appellants so much trouble, pain and suffering.

On this point therefore, [w]e find defendant-appellee Dr. Rubi Li negligent which would entitle plaintiffs-appellants to their claim for damages.

x x x x

WHEREFORE, the instant appeal is hereby GRANTED. Accordingly, the assailed decision is hereby modified to the extent that defendant-appellee Dr. Rubi Li is ordered to pay the plaintiffs-appellants the following amounts:
  1. Actual damages of P139,064.43, plus P9,828.00 for funeral expenses;
  2. Moral damages of P200,000.00;
  3. Exemplary damages of P50,000.00;
  4. Attorney's fee of P30,000.00.
SO ORDERED.[49] (Emphasis supplied.)
Petitioner filed a motion for partial reconsideration which the appellate court denied.

Hence, this petition.

Petitioner assails the CA in finding her guilty of negligence in not explaining to the respondents all the possible side effects of the chemotherapy on their child, and in holding her liable for actual, moral and exemplary damages and attorney's fees. Petitioner emphasized that she was not negligent in the pre-chemotherapy procedures and in the administration of chemotherapy treatment to Angelica.

On her supposed non-disclosure of all possible side effects of chemotherapy, including death, petitioner argues that it was foolhardy to imagine her to be all-knowing/omnipotent. While the theoretical side effects of chemotherapy were explained by her to the respondents, as these should be known to a competent doctor, petitioner cannot possibly predict how a particular patient's genetic make-up, state of mind, general health and body constitution would respond to the treatment. These are obviously dependent on too many known, unknown and immeasurable variables, thus requiring that Angelica be, as she was, constantly and closely monitored during the treatment. Petitioner asserts that she did everything within her professional competence to attend to the medical needs of Angelica.

Citing numerous trainings, distinctions and achievements in her field and her current position as co-director for clinical affairs of the Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine of SLMC, petitioner contends that in the absence of any clear showing or proof, she cannot be charged with negligence in not informing the respondents all the side effects of chemotherapy or in the pre-treatment procedures done on Angelica.

As to the cause of death, petitioner insists that Angelica did not die of platelet depletion but of sepsis which is a complication of the cancer itself. Sepsis itself leads to bleeding and death. She explains that the response rate to chemotherapy of patients with osteosarcoma is high, so much so that survival rate is favorable to the patient. Petitioner then points to some probable consequences if Angelica had not undergone chemotherapy. Thus, without chemotherapy, other medicines and supportive treatment, the patient might have died the next day because of massive infection, or the cancer cells might have spread to the brain and brought the patient into a coma, or into the lungs that the patient could have been hooked to a respirator, or into her kidneys that she would have to undergo dialysis. Indeed, respondents could have spent as much because of these complications. The patient would have been deprived of the chance to survive the ailment, of any hope for life and her "quality of life" surely compromised. Since she had not been shown to be at fault, petitioner maintains that the CA erred in holding her liable for the damages suffered by the respondents.[50]

The issue to be resolved is whether the petitioner can be held liable for failure to fully disclose serious side effects to the parents of the child patient who died while undergoing chemotherapy, despite the absence of finding that petitioner was negligent in administering the said treatment.

The petition is meritorious.

The type of lawsuit which has been called medical malpractice or, more appropriately, medical negligence, is that type of claim which a victim has available to him or her to redress a wrong committed by a medical professional which has caused bodily harm. In order to successfully pursue such a claim, a patient must prove that a health care provider, in most cases a physician, either failed to do something which a reasonably prudent health care provider would have done, or that he or she did something that a reasonably prudent provider would not have done; and that that failure or action caused injury to the patient.[51]

This Court has recognized that medical negligence cases are best proved by opinions of expert witnesses belonging in the same general neighborhood and in the same general line of practice as defendant physician or surgeon. The deference of courts to the expert opinion of qualified physicians stems from the former's realization that the latter possess unusual technical skills which laymen in most instances are incapable of intelligently evaluating, hence the indispensability of expert testimonies.[52]

In this case, both the trial and appellate courts concurred in finding that the alleged negligence of petitioner in the administration of chemotherapy drugs to respondents' child was not proven considering that Drs. Vergara and Balmaceda, not being oncologists or cancer specialists, were not qualified to give expert opinion as to whether petitioner's lack of skill, knowledge and professional competence in failing to observe the standard of care in her line of practice was the proximate cause of the patient's death. Furthermore, respondents' case was not at all helped by the non-production of medical records by the hospital (only the biopsy result and medical bills were submitted to the court). Nevertheless, the CA found petitioner liable for her failure to inform the respondents on all possible side effects of chemotherapy before securing their consent to the said treatment.

The doctrine of informed consent within the context of physician-patient relationships goes far back into English common law. As early as 1767, doctors were charged with the tort of "battery" (i.e., an unauthorized physical contact with a patient) if they had not gained the consent of their patients prior to performing a surgery or procedure. In the United States, the seminal case was Schoendorff v. Society of New York Hospital[53]which involved unwanted treatment performed by a doctor. Justice Benjamin Cardozo's oft-quoted opinion upheld the basic right of a patient to give consent to any medical procedure or treatment: "Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an operation without his patient's consent, commits an assault, for which he is liable in damages."[54] From a purely ethical norm, informed consent evolved into a general principle of law that a physician has a duty to disclose what a reasonably prudent physician in the medical community in the exercise of reasonable care would disclose to his patient as to whatever grave risks of injury might be incurred from a proposed course of treatment, so that a patient, exercising ordinary care for his own welfare, and faced with a choice of undergoing the proposed treatment, or alternative treatment, or none at all, may intelligently exercise his judgment by reasonably balancing the probable risks against the probable benefits.[55]

Subsequently, in Canterbury v. Spence[56] the court observed that the duty to disclose should not be limited to medical usage as to arrogate the decision on revelation to the physician alone. Thus, respect for the patient's right of self-determination on particular therapy demands a standard set by law for physicians rather than one which physicians may or may not impose upon themselves.[57] The scope of disclosure is premised on the fact that patients ordinarily are persons unlearned in the medical sciences. Proficiency in diagnosis and therapy is not the full measure of a physician's responsibility. It is also his duty to warn of the dangers lurking in the proposed treatment and to impart information which the patient has every right to expect. Indeed, the patient's reliance upon the physician is a trust of the kind which traditionally has exacted obligations beyond those associated with armslength transactions.[58] The physician is not expected to give the patient a short medical education, the disclosure rule only requires of him a reasonable explanation, which means generally informing the patient in nontechnical terms as to what is at stake; the therapy alternatives open to him, the goals expectably to be achieved, and the risks that may ensue from particular treatment or no treatment.[59] As to the issue of demonstrating what risks are considered material necessitating disclosure, it was held that experts are unnecessary to a showing of the materiality of a risk to a patient's decision on treatment, or to the reasonably, expectable effect of risk disclosure on the decision. Such unrevealed risk that should have been made known must further materialize, for otherwise the omission, however unpardonable, is without legal consequence. And, as in malpractice actions generally, there must be a causal relationship between the physician's failure to divulge and damage to the patient.[60]

Reiterating the foregoing considerations, Cobbs v. Grant[61] deemed it as integral part of physician's overall obligation to patient, the duty of reasonable disclosure of available choices with respect to proposed therapy and of dangers inherently and potentially involved in each. However, the physician is not obliged to discuss relatively minor risks inherent in common procedures when it is common knowledge that such risks inherent in procedure of very low incidence. Cited as exceptions to the rule that the patient should not be denied the opportunity to weigh the risks of surgery or treatment are emergency cases where it is evident he cannot evaluate data, and where the patient is a child or incompetent.[62] The court thus concluded that the patient's right of self-decision can only be effectively exercised if the patient possesses adequate information to enable him in making an intelligent choice. The scope of the physician's communications to the patient, then must be measured by the patient's need, and that need is whatever information is material to the decision. The test therefore for determining whether a potential peril must be divulged is its materiality to the patient's decision.[63]

Cobbs v. Grant further reiterated the pronouncement in Canterbury v. Spence that for liability of the physician for failure to inform patient, there must be causal relationship between physician's failure to inform and the injury to patient and such connection arises only if it is established that, had revelation been made, consent to treatment would not have been given.

There are four essential elements a plaintiff must prove in a malpractice action based upon the doctrine of informed consent: "(1) the physician had a duty to disclose material risks; (2) he failed to disclose or inadequately disclosed those risks; (3) as a direct and proximate result of the failure to disclose, the patient consented to treatment she otherwise would not have consented to; and (4) plaintiff was injured by the proposed treatment." The gravamen in an informed consent case requires the plaintiff to "point to significant undisclosed information relating to the treatment which would have altered her decision to undergo it.[64]

Examining the evidence on record, we hold that there was adequate disclosure of material risks inherent in the chemotherapy procedure performed with the consent of Angelica's parents. Respondents could not have been unaware in the course of initial treatment and amputation of Angelica's lower extremity, that her immune system was already weak on account of the malignant tumor in her knee. When petitioner informed the respondents beforehand of the side effects of chemotherapy which includes lowered counts of white and red blood cells, decrease in blood platelets, possible kidney or heart damage and skin darkening, there is reasonable expectation on the part of the doctor that the respondents understood very well that the severity of these side effects will not be the same for all patients undergoing the procedure. In other words, by the nature of the disease itself, each patient's reaction to the chemical agents even with pre-treatment laboratory tests cannot be precisely determined by the physician. That death can possibly result from complications of the treatment or the underlying cancer itself, immediately or sometime after the administration of chemotherapy drugs, is a risk that cannot be ruled out, as with most other major medical procedures, but such conclusion can be reasonably drawn from the general side effects of chemotherapy already disclosed.

As a physician, petitioner can reasonably expect the respondents to have considered the variables in the recommended treatment for their daughter afflicted with a life-threatening illness. On the other hand, it is difficult to give credence to respondents' claim that petitioner told them of 95% chance of recovery for their daughter, as it was unlikely for doctors like petitioner who were dealing with grave conditions such as cancer to have falsely assured patients of chemotherapy's success rate. Besides, informed consent laws in other countries generally require only a reasonable explanation of potential harms, so specific disclosures such as statistical data, may not be legally necessary.[65]

The element of ethical duty to disclose material risks in the proposed medical treatment cannot thus be reduced to one simplistic formula applicable in all instances. Further, in a medical malpractice action based on lack of informed consent, "the plaintiff must prove both the duty and the breach of that duty through expert testimony.[66] Such expert testimony must show the customary standard of care of physicians in the same practice as that of the defendant doctor.[67]

In this case, the testimony of Dr. Balmaceda who is not an oncologist but a Medical Specialist of the DOH's Operational and Management Services charged with receiving complaints against hospitals, does not qualify as expert testimony to establish the standard of care in obtaining consent for chemotherapy treatment. In the absence of expert testimony in this regard, the Court feels hesitant in defining the scope of mandatory disclosure in cases of malpractice based on lack of informed consent, much less set a standard of disclosure that, even in foreign jurisdictions, has been noted to be an evolving one.
As society has grappled with the juxtaposition between personal autonomy and the medical profession's intrinsic impetus to cure, the law defining "adequate" disclosure has undergone a dynamic evolution. A standard once guided solely by the ruminations of physicians is now dependent on what a reasonable person in the patient's position regards as significant. This change in perspective is especially important as medical breakthroughs move practitioners to the cutting edge of technology, ever encountering new and heretofore unimagined treatments for currently incurable diseases or ailments. An adaptable standard is needed to account for this constant progression. Reasonableness analyses permeate our legal system for the very reason that they are determined by social norms, expanding and contracting with the ebb and flow of societal evolution.

As we progress toward the twenty-first century, we now realize that the legal standard of disclosure is not subject to construction as a categorical imperative. Whatever formulae or processes we adopt are only useful as a foundational starting point; the particular quality or quantity of disclosure will remain inextricably bound by the facts of each case. Nevertheless, juries that ultimately determine whether a physician properly informed a patient are inevitably guided by what they perceive as the common expectation of the medical consumer--"a reasonable person in the patient's position when deciding to accept or reject a recommended medical procedure."[68] (Emphasis supplied.)
WHEREFORE, the petition for review on certiorari is GRANTED. The Decision dated June 15, 2004 and the Resolution dated September 1, 2004 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 58013 are SET ASIDE.

The Decision dated September 5, 1997 of the Regional Trial Court of Legazpi City, Branch 8, in Civil Case No. 8904 is REINSTATED and UPHELD.

No costs.


Corona, C.J., and Perez, JJ., concur.
Carpio, J., see dissenting opinion.
Carpio Morales, Velasco, Jr., and Peralta, JJ., joins the dissent of J., Carpio
Nachura, Leonardo-De Castro, and Mendoza, JJ., I join J. Brion's Separate opinion.
Brion, J. in the result: see separate opinion.
Bersamin, J., concur in the result, and I join the separate opinion of J. Brion.
Del Castillo,J., no part.
Abad, J., please see my concurring opinion.
Sereno, J., I dissent. evidence was provided by the doctor- petition herself. I join J. Carpio.

* No part.

[1] Rollo, pp. 33-63. Penned by Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo (now a Member of this Court) and concurred in by Associate Justices Roberto A. Barrios and Magdangal M. De Leon.

[2] Id. at 65.

[3] Id. at 119-162. Penned by Judge Salvador D. Silerio.

[4] Records, p. 174.

[5] Id. at 175.

[6] Id. at 254.

[7] Rollo, pp. 80-89.

[8] Id. at 95-108.

[9] TSN, January 26, 1995, p. 3.

[10] TSN, October 6, 1995, pp. 18-26, 60; TSN, January 27, 1997, pp. 4-5.

[11] Rollo, p. 35.

[12] Id. at35 and 81.

[13] TSN, October 6, 1995, pp. 39-40; rollo, p. 123.

[14] Id. at 40.

[15] Cisplatin is in a class of drugs known as platinum-containing compounds. It slows or stops the growth of cancer cells inside the body. Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a684036.html. (Site visited on August 21, 2010.)

[16] Doxorubicin is an anti-cancer (antineoplastic or cytotoxic) chemotherapy drug. It is classified as an "anthracycline antibiotic." Source: http://www.chemocare.com/bio/doxorubicin.asp (Site visited on August 21, 2010.)

[17] Cosmegen is the trade name for Dactinomycin, an anti-cancer (antineoplastic or cytotoxic) chemotherapy drug classified as an "alkylating agent." Source: http://www.chemocare.com/bio/cosmegen.asp (Site visited on August 21, 2010.)

[18] TSN, January 27, 1997, p. 9.

[19] Rollo, p. 124.

[20] TSN, April 22, 1996, pp. 11-12.

[21] Rollo, p. 35.

[22] Id. at 120.

[23] TSN, October 6, 1995, pp. 27-28.

[24] TSN, September 19, 1994, p. 18.

[25] Par. 11 of Answer, rollo, p. 100.

[26] TSN, September 19, 1994, p. 19; paragraph 16 of Complaint, rollo, p. 82.

[27] TSN, October 6, 1995, pp. 28-30; paragraphs 12, 13 & 14 of Answer, rollo, pp. 100-101.

[28] Rollo,p. 101.

[29] TSN, September 19, 1994, p. 22.

[30] Rollo, p. 36.

[31] Id. at 125-126.

[32] http://www.rxlist.com/bactrim-drug.htm (Site visited September 2, 2010.)

[33] Paragraph 14 of Answer, rollo, pp. 101-102.

[34] Paragraphs 19-20 of Complaint, rollo, pp. 83; paragraphs 15-17 of Answer, pp. 102-103.

[35] Paragraph 17 of Answer, rollo, p. 103.

[36] Paragraph 23 of Complaint, rollo, p. 83; TSN, September 19, 1994, pp. 24-25.

[37] TSN, December 15, 1994, pp. 13-21.

[38] Paragraph 17 of Answer, rollo, p. 103.

[39] Id.

[40] Rollo, p. 37.

[41] TSN, October 6, 1995, p. 33.

[42] Id.

[43] TSN, December 15, 1994, p. 22.

[44] TSN, December 14, 1994, pp. 15-38.

[45] TSN, April 28, 1995, pp. 23-25.

[46] TSN, May 26, 1996, pp. 5, 8-13, 23.

[47] 37 Phil. 809 (1918).

[48] Rollo, pp. 160-162.

[49] Id. at 58-59, 62-63.

[50] Id. at 18-23.

[51] Garcia-Rueda v. Pascasio, G.R. No. 118141, September 5, 1997, 278 SCRA 769, 778.

[52] Lucas v. TuaƱo, G.R. No. 178763, April 21, 2009, 586 SCRA 173, 201-202, citing Dr. Cruz v. Court of Appeals, 346 Phil. 872, 884-885 (1997).

[53] 105 N.E. 92, 93 (N.Y. 1914).

[54] Id.

[55] Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, p. 701, citing Ze Barth v. Swedish Hospital Medical Center, 81 Wash.2d 12, 499 P.2d 1, 8.

[56] 464 F.2d 772 C.A.D.C., 1972.

[57] Id. at 784.

[58] Id. at 780-782.

[59] Id. at 782.

[60] Id. at 790, 791-792.

[61] 8 Cal.3d 229, 502 P.2d 1 Cal. 1972.

[62] Id.

[63] Id.

[64] Davis v. Kraff, N.E.2d 2010 WL 4026765 III.App. 1 Dist., 2010, citing Coryell v. Smith, 274 III.App.3d 543, 210 III.Dec. 855, 653 N.E.2d 1317 (1995).

[65] Arato v. Avedon, 858 P.2d 598 (Cal. 1993).

[66] Mason v. Walsh, 26 Conn.App. 225, 229-30, 00 A.2d 326 (1991).

[67] Id., 230, citing Shenefield v. Greenwich Hospital Assn., 10 Conn.App. 239, 248-49, 522 A.2d 829 (1987).

[68] "Informed Consent: From the Ambivalence of Arato to the Thunder of Thor" Issues in Law & Medicine, Winter, 1994 by Armand Arabian. Sourced at Internet - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m6875/is_n3_10/ai_n25022732/pg_37/?tag=content;col1.