Patients’ rights and informed consent have been topics of controversy for both the medical and legal professions in the 1990s. Perhaps predictably the lawyers have been urging the incorporation of rights-based standards into both the legal framework and medical practice while doctors have sought to ensure that when this occurs it does not undermine their professional autonomy and authority. We start with a description of the background to medical practice up to and including the Pacific War. Then we will briefly consider the structure of the health-care system as it was reconstructed after the war and look at the rise of patients’ rights advocacy groups. Next we will present as case studies the development of attitudes to informed consent and the care of the mentally disordered. Finally we will comment on current trends and possibilities for the future.