Are you the master of your own body? Do you have the right to decide what medical interventions you accept or refuse? These questions raise one of the most crucial issues in healthcare: the right to refuse medical treatment. As scientific advances transform our understanding of medicine, it’s essential to look at patients’ rights and understand whether we have the power to say “no” to medical treatment.

Our human rights lawyers explain the extent of your autonomy in a healthcare setting. Get ready to challenge what you thought you knew about your right to say “no” to medical treatment.

Legislation surrounding refusal of medical treatment

Making decisions about one’s own body and health is recognized as a fundamental individual right. Article 5 of the Act Respecting End-of-Life Care, passed in January 2014, is very clear on the subject.

The law stipulates that any adult who can consent to care has the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment or to withdraw consent to such treatment.

Minors aged 14 and over, as well as incapacitated adults or minors, can also make these decisions with the authorization of the person empowered to give consent to care (tutor or guardian).

Doctors, for their part, must ensure that the decision is taken freely and provide the person with all the information they need to make an informed choice, including other possible therapeutic options, such as palliative care.

What does “care” mean?

When it comes to consent or refusal of care, the term “care” encompasses various forms of treatment, such as:

  • Contraception
  • Residential care (CHSLD)
  • Medical interventions
  • Nutrition

Refusing health care: free and informed consent

Consent is considered valid if it is given voluntarily and after a patient has received all relevant information.

A patient can refuse healthcare or social services. Healthcare professionals must obtain the patient’s free and informed consent, or the consent of their legal guardian or representative if the patient is incapable of giving consent or is under the age of 14.

If healthcare professionals administer treatment without obtaining a patient’s free and informed consent, the patient may file a complaint against the healthcare facility and the professionals concerned.

What is “free” consent?

Consent is considered “free” when it is given voluntarily. Consent is not considered free if the patient feels compelled to consent because of pressure exerted either by a relative or physician.

Remember that when a doctor informs a patient of the risks involved in refusing certain treatments, this does not constitute putting pressure on the patient. On the contrary, this is done to provide the patient with adequate information to enable them to express what they really and truly wish for.

What is “informed” consent?

Consent is said to be “informed” when it is given with full knowledge of the situation. The patient must have all the medical information necessary to make an informed decision.

It is a physician’s duty to inform the patient, before they give or refuse consent, of the following points:

  • The nature of the disease for which treatment is proposed
  • The nature and purpose of the treatment
  • The risks and benefits of the treatment in question
  • The risks of not undergoing the treatment.

The patient’s illness or condition must not affect their ability to understand these elements.

It is important to note that each situation is unique, and that the conditions for exercising the right to refuse treatment may vary according to individual circumstances and specific legal regulations. You may also wish to seek the legal advice of a health lawyer.

Conditions for exercising the right to refuse treatment

To exercise the right to refuse treatment, the patient must be able to understand the relevant medical information and assess the consequences of their decision. Legal capacity and discernment are important criteria in determining whether a patient can make an informed decision regarding their own medical treatment.

Exceptions to the right to refuse treatment

There are certain exceptions to the right to refuse treatment. For example, in the event of a life-threatening medical emergency, healthcare professionals may be authorized to administer treatment without the patient’s explicit consent.

In addition, minors and incapacitated adults may be subject to special rules concerning refusal of treatment, which may vary depending on current legislation.

Procedures and appeals for disputed treatment refusals

When refusing treatment, patients must establish clear communication with their doctor and explore alternative options to treatment. A patient can draw up advance directives or a declaration of refusal of treatment to ensure that their choices are respected

Disputes over the right to refuse treatment: legal recourse

In a dispute over the right to refuse treatment, patients have several legal options. By consulting a health lawyer for advice about their rights, they can obtain personalized recommendations.

Mediation or conciliation may be proposed as a way to resolve the dispute amicably. If no agreement is reached, the patient can take the issue to court. In the event of a breach of the consent to care law by a member of nursing staff, you can contact the service quality and complaints commissioner of the facility concerned.

Obtain respect for your right to medical consent with MedLégal

When a patient voluntarily refuses medical treatment, medical staff has no choice but to abide by the patient’s free and informed decision, even if refusing treatment could result in harm or even death.

If you found this article helpful but you still have questions, please visit our blog or contact us for more information.

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