Do I have the right to refuse treatment?

In most cases yes.

You must give your consent (permission) before you receive any type of medical treatment, from a simple blood test to deciding to donate your organs after your death.

If you refuse a treatment, your decision must be respected, even if is thought that refusing treatment would result in your death or the death of your unborn child.

Voluntary and informed decisions

For consent to treatment or refusal of treatment to be valid, the decision must be voluntary and you must be appropriately informed:

  • Voluntary: you must make your decision to consent to or refuse treatment alone, and your decision must not be due to pressure by healthcare professionals, friends or family.
  • Appropriately informed: you must be given full information about what the treatment involves, including the benefits and risks, whether there are reasonable alternative treatments, and what will happen if treatment doesn't go ahead.

Lacking capacity

The one exception to this rule is if the health professionals in charge of your care think you lack the capacity to make an informed and voluntary decision.

"Capacity" means the ability to use and understand information to make a decision, and communicate any decision made.

All adults are presumed to have sufficient capacity to decide on their own medical treatment, unless there's significant evidence to suggest otherwise.

A person lacks capacity if their mind is impaired or disturbed in some way, and this means the person is unable to make a decision at that time.

Examples of how a person's brain or mind may be impaired include:

Read more about capacity to consent.

Advance decisions

If you are 18 or older you have the option of making what is known as an advance decision (also known as a living will). This is a decision to refuse particular medical treatments for a time in the future when you may be unable to make such a decision.

You can refuse a treatment that could potentially keep you alive (known as life-sustaining treatment). This includes treatments such as ventilation and cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which may be used if you cannot breathe by yourself or if your heart stops. You may want to discuss this with a doctor or nurse who knows about your medical history before you make up your mind.

The treatments you are deciding to refuse must all be named in the advance decision.

You make the advance decision, as long as you have the mental capacity to make such decisions. You may want to make an advance decision with the support of a clinician.

If you decide to refuse life-sustaining treatment in the future, your advance decision needs to be:

  • written down
  • signed by you
  • signed by a witness

Read more about advanced decisions and end-of-life care.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 11/01/2017

Next review due: 11/01/2020