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I noticed a usage I consider odd while copy editing, and I'm hoping someone can explain it. Here are two examples from published academic work:

Participants were consented to the study between 13 July 2009 and 14 February 2013, and randomised between 15 July 2009 and 18 February 2013. (link)

Thirteen patients were consented to the study. (link)

Based on the context, I understand them as meaning that the participants consented to the study. However, I find it curious that these samples write in the passive voice rather than the active voice because

  • I thought consent was only an intransitive verb, which means it can't be passive voice. That's how Merriam-Webster classifies it. To my knowledge, "the researchers consent participants" or "participants consent the study" don't work; "participants consent to the study" does.

  • Other verbs could work in the passive voice, like "participants were enrolled in the study." But multiple writers have decided to use this phrasing with consent.

My question: Is passive-voice consent a trend or something that is approaching accepted usage, a kind of error that happened to make it past some editors, or something that has been long accepted but not noticed?

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    I've not met the 'were consented to' structure, but am quite familiar with 'X has been consented' to mean 'X has signed a consent [form]' among NHS staff. Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 19:29
  • Yes, for example, hospitals get the patients consented in writing for a surgery.
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 7:26

2 Answers 2

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To consent a patient appears to be medical jargon . . .

A surgeon who fails to consent a patient adequately for an operation is in breach of his duty of care to that patient.

You can use scare quotes to signify jargon . . .

Opportunities to "consent" a patient abound on the wards.

If you really don't like jargon, be sure to put an ugh after the offending term:

So much is written about informed consent—from how students and residents are taught to “consent” a patient (ugh) to the challenging of patients’ decision-making capability should they refuse recommended treatment.

So there's your transitive, jargony verb.

Active: We consented the patients.

Passive: The patients were consented [by us].

It also appears that you can consent a patient to [something] and consent a patient to [do something].

.

See also: When to use scare quotes in formal writing:

Use scare quotes to indicate technical jargon: Scare marks may also signal to the reader that you’re using technical jargon. But avoid jargon if you can.

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  • It is tempting to speculate whether to consent somebody is just an equivalent in the medical jargon of to obtain somebody's consent, or it expresses the attitude that doing so is merely a formality.
    – jsw29
    Commented Mar 17, 2021 at 15:29
  • @jsw29: I wouldn't call consent a formality; it's a legality. Commented Mar 17, 2021 at 17:09
  • Of course, you wouldn't, nor would I. My point was that those who use consent as a transitive verb might be thinking of it that way. Speaking of 'consenting a patient' leaves an impression that this is one of the things that physicians and their staff do to a patient, that the patient is acted upon, rather than acting. This makes one wonder whether they really appreciate that giving or withholding consent is supposed to be a manifestation of the patient's autonomy.
    – jsw29
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 0:32
  • @jsw29: Ah, yes, I think I see what you mean. We consented the patient and The patient was consented... Active or passive — the patient's agency is missing here. Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 3:43
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A check with Google Books suggests that the passive constructions with “consent”, namely be/is/was/were consented to are on a downtrend rather than on an uptrend, from which probably the fact that they look unusual to today’s readers.

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