Hospital Procedure

In the United Kingdom, patients at a hospital do not have to produce a breath test or provide a specimen for a laboratory testing unless the practitioner in immediate charge of their case has been notified and does not object on the grounds that the requirement would be prejudicial to the proper care and treatment of the person. In the United States, forensic blood samples can be taken from unconscious patients who are not able to give informed consent. Recent legislative changes in the United Kingdom in the Police Reform Act 2002 give doctors similar powers with a few subtle differences in that blood can be taken providing the person has been involved in an accident, the doctor is satisfied that the person is not able to give valid consent (for whatever reason, which could include mental health problems) and the person does not object to or resist the specimen being taken (34). After death, a coroner can order that the blood alcohol level be measured (remembering always that the value measured will be 14% lower than if serum or plasma had been measured at a clinical laboratory). In the United States, medical examiners and coroners do not require special permission to measure ethanol (or any drug for that matter), and they do so routinely. Ethanol concentrations in vitreous humor are made and may be introduced in court. However, no fixed relationship between postmortem blood and vitreous concentrations is recognized in law. Additionally, when bodily harm has resulted, or when there is evidence of criminal activity (such as leaving the scene of an accident), then it is within the power of the officer to order that blood be drawn, even if the suspect is unwilling or unconscious.

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