Refusing medical treatment is a hot-button social issue.

According to the law, do you think that a patient can refuse medical treatment necessary for survival? Our human rights lawyers address the topic for you.

Refusing medical treatment: what the law says

Decision-making about your own body and health is recognized as a fundamental human right.

Section 5 of the Act respecting end-of-life care, passed in January 2014, is very clear:

“Except as otherwise provided by law, a person of full age who is capable of giving consent to care may, at any time, refuse to receive life-sustaining care or withdraw consent to such care.

To the extent provided by the Civil Code, a minor of 14 years of age or over, and in the case of a minor or a person of full age who is incapable of giving consent, the person who may give consent to care on their behalf may also make such a decision.

The refusal of care or withdrawal of consent to care may be expressed by any means.

The physician must make sure that such a decision is made freely and provide the person with all information needed to make an informed decision, in particular information about other therapeutic possibilities, including palliative care.”

Free and informed consent

Patients may therefore refuse medical care or social services. However, health professionals must obtain the free and informed consent of the patient or their guardian, curator or mandatary if they are medically unfit or under 14 years of age.

If healthcare or social service professionals provide treatment without prior consent, the patient could legally sue these individuals and seek medical malpractice lawyers to represent them.

What is free consent?

Consent is free when it is voluntary. The decision to refuse medical care must therefore be the result of the patient’s free will and not of pressure from staff or anyone else.

What is informed consent?

Consent to accept or refuse health care must also be informed, meaning the patient must have full knowledge of the facts. In health law, the patient must therefore understand:

  • The disease for which treatment is being offered
  • Purpose of treatment
  • Treatment risks and benefits
  • Risks associated with not undergoing treatment

The patient’s illness or condition should not affect their ability to understand these elements. The ability to consent or refuse health care must be verified whenever health care is offered.

Consenting or refusing health care

When a patient voluntarily refuses medical treatment, the staff has no choice but to abide by the patients free and informed decision, even if not undergoing treatment can result in harm or even death.

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