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How To Refuse Treatment You Don't Want And To Enforce Your Refusal If Necessary


You have the right to refuse or discontinue any and all treatment. 

If you decide to discontinue treatment designed to cure or stabilize your condition, you can still receive pain medications and treatment to reduce symptoms.

Refusal of treatment includes three areas 

  • Things to think about before you refuse treatment.
  • What happens if they won't stop treatment.
  • What to do to assure that your treatment wishes are followed even if you become unable to communicate.

Things to think about before you refuse treatment

The decision to refuse treatment is, of course, a decision that should be given careful consideration. If you are thinking about refusing treatment:

  • Research the treatment and alternatives. If you're not up to doing it on your own, ask a friend or family member to do it for you or hire a service. (To leaern about medical research, click here. For information about professional research services, click here.
  • Discuss your decision with your doctor. Doctors are a great source of valuable information and advice.
  • Many experts recommend that you consult a mental health therapist, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker to help explore your reasons for the refusal. For example, perhaps the refusal is due to a depression that you're not aware of.
  • You may also want to consult your family and loved ones.
  • Consider discussing the situation with your clergy person or spiritual advisor.

Remember that the final decision about treatments is yours to make.

What To Do If Medical Professionals Or A Facility Refuse To Stop Treatment

If medical professionals or a facility refuse to honor your wishes:

  • Be clear and insistent regarding your decisions. If necessary, have a friend, family member or lawyer act on your behalf.
  • Bring your case directly to the attention of the administrator of the hospital or other facility.
    • It may be beneficial to have your doctor attend the meeting, particularly if he or she is willing to express support for your treatment decision.
    • If possible, supply letters of support from your mental health therapist, clergy, or local disease specific non-profit.
  • Record or take notes, or have someone take notes, regarding conversations you have about your wishes. Include in your notes details of what was said and with whom you spoke. (Most mobile phones have the ability record. If not, recorders are inexpensive.)
  • If all else fails:
    • Look for sources of influence, including:
      • Friends you may have made at your local disease specific non-profit organization
      • People you know or can get to who have made substantial contributions to the health care facility where you are
      • The press and social media. See: How To Get Press Coverage
    • You may wish to consult with a lawyer. Your local disease specific non-profit, the American Bar Association (800.285.2221), or a group such as Caring Connections. (800.658.8898) may be able to refer you to an attorney who is experienced with such matters. For additional information, see: How To Find A Lawyer, How To Afford A Lawyer (Or Get One For Free) 

If your decision is an end-of-life decision, read Choosing A Hospice, Advance Directives, How To Enforce Advance Directives.

What To Do To Assure That Your Treatment Wishes Are Followed Even If You Become Unable To Communicate

To ensure compliance with your treatment decisions:

  • Speak with your doctor and confirm that she is willing to honor your treatment and end-of-life wishes. If your doctor is not willing to honor your decisions, consider changing doctors.
  • Ask how the hospital or other facility you are in or may enter how they typically handle your type of treatment requests.
  • Put all of your end-of-life paperwork in order. At the least, it is advisable to have a Health Care Power Of Attorney.  Be sure to appoint someone to act as proxy who can enforce your wishes. Let the person know that, if needed, we have an article about How To Enforce An Advance Directive.
    • Be certain that your doctor's office, the hospital and any other facility have copies of your advance directives and that they are placed in your medical records chart.
    • Don't forget to write or check to be sure that your will is up to date.  Everyone should have a will. (Wills do not have to be expensive.)
  • Become familiar with your state laws regarding issues such as refusing medical treatment, withdrawing life support, pain management, and honoring advance directives.  To obtain up-to-date state specific information, you can contact Caring Connections.  This non-profit group will also answer questions and provide advice through their toll free hotline, Tel. 800.658.8898.

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