Do I have the right to refuse treatment?

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.

Capacity to consent to treatment

To consent to or refuse treatment, you must have the capacity to make that decision. Capacity means the ability to use and understand information to make a decision.

Under the terms of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, all adults are presumed to have sufficient capacity to decide on their own medical treatment, unless there is significant evidence to suggest otherwise.

Read more about capacity to consent.

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.

Refusing treatment

If you have capacity and make a voluntary and appropriately informed decision to refuse a treatment, your decision must be respected. This applies even if your decision would result in your death, or the death of your unborn child.

Advance decisions (sometimes known as living wills)

If you are 18 or older, have the capacity to make an advance decision about treatment and know that you have a condition that, in time, may affect your capacity to make decisions, or simply as part of your preparations for growing older, you can arrange an advance decision. 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.

The treatments you are deciding to refuse must all be named in the advance decision and you need to be clear about all the circumstances in which you want to refuse this treatment.

If the treatment is life-sustaining, your advance decision will need to be in writing, signed in the presence of a witness and you must include a clear statement that the advance decision is to apply to the specific treatment, even if your life is at risk.

Provided your advance decision is valid and applicable to current circumstances, it has the same effect as a decision that is made by a person with capacity. This means that the healthcare professionals treating you cannot perform specific procedures or treatments against your wishes.

See our page on end of life care for more information about advance decisions.

Read the answers to more questions about NHS services and treatments.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 07/01/2015

Next review due: 06/01/2017