Emergency Medical Decisions

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The general rule is that people have the right to accept or refuse health care. Health care can’t be forced on anyone. However, there are exceptions in urgent situations. 

Exceptions to the General Rule 

 In an emergency, medical professionals do not need a patient’s permission to give treatment when these two tests are met: 

  • The patient’s life or physical integrity is at risk. 

AND 

  • It’s impossible to get permission in time, either from the patient or from someone who is allowed to give permission instead of the patient. 

In these situations, medical professionals can only give treatment that is necessary to save the patient’s life or to protect the patient’s physical integrity.  

Adult Patients (18 and Over) 

In an emergency, if medical professionals can’t get an adult patient’s permission, they can give emergency care. 

Important! If the patient is unconscious but carries a card clearly indicating a wish to refuse certain treatments, the medical staff must consider these wishes. They must also follow any advance medical directives the patient made.

Children Under 14 

Since children under the age of 14 are not allowed to make health decisions on their own, permission from their parents or their tutors is always required.

In an emergency, if it’s impossible to get permission from the parents or the tutor, the medical staff can give the child emergency care. 

Children 14 to 17 Years Old 

If a child 14 to 17 years old refuses health care in an emergency, the parents or the tutor can give their permission and go against the child’s wishes. 

If a child 14 to 17 years old refuses health care in an emergency and the child’s parents or tutor also refuse treatment, the medical staff can go to court and ask a judge to decide whether it’s in the interests of the child to give the treatment. 

But if the emergency is so serious that a court order would come too latethe medical staff can give the child the necessary treatment, even if the child refuses and the parents or tutor refuse as well. 

Adults Unable to Make Decisions on Their Own 

In emergencies involving adults unable to make decisions on their own (for example, because of weakened mental abilities), if the medical professionals can’t get permission from someone who is allowed to decide on behalf of the patient, they can give the emergency treatment. But the medical staff must still check whether the patient made advance medical directives.