Consent to Medical Care and the Right to Refuse Care


Patients usually have the right to accept or refuse medical care. Medical professionals must therefore make sure patients agree before giving care. The law calls this agreement consent.

Consent can usually be given verbally or in writing. Patients can change their mind at any time.

Special rules apply in emergencies. Special rules also apply for these people:

Important: People can be forced to stay at the hospital if their mental state makes them a danger to themselves or others. But even if hospitalized against their will, people still have the right to refuse treatment. For more information, read our article on forced hospitalization.

Definition of Care

Care includes various treatments and procedures, including:

  • medical procedures
  • feeding
  • birth control
  • placement in an institution like a long-term care facility

Free and Informed Decisions

Patients’ decisions must always be free and informed.

Consent is free if the patient gives it voluntarily. This means the patient isn’t forced or pressured.

Consent is informed if the patient knows all the important facts. The patient must have all the medical information needed to make a decision. The doctor must clearly explain the patient’s health condition. The doctor must also explain the risks and benefits of the treatment. Since this is part of the doctor’s job, it isn’t considered pressuring the patient.

To learn more about doctors’ duties, see our articles on the duties of doctors towards patients and the duty of doctors to inform patients.

Right to Refuse Treatment

Patients usually have the right to refuse medical care, even if this could lead to death. For example, patients can refuse life-saving treatment like respirators or blood transfusions. Refusals must be free and informed.

Exception: A hospital can ask the Superior Court for permission to treat a patient against his will if the treatment is necessary and the patient can’t make medical decisions for himself. For more information, read our article on forced treatment.