Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Right to Refuse Treatment

July 10, 2022

In the context of health care, competent adults have the right to refuse treatment. This right derives from their right to determine what is done, or not done, to them. Medicine’s technical capacity to sustain life and postpone death further complicates this complex issue. It is the right of the patient to accept or refuse a treatment, even if the refusal has the potential to or is certain to result in death. To exercise the right to refuse treatment, many patients prepare advance directives. Living wills, one kind of advance directive, become effective when patients are incapacitated and are not able to make their own wishes known; these documents specify which lifesaving treatments are acceptable and which are not. Some patients choose to designate a health care proxy (assign durable power of attorney) to make decisions regarding medical treatment in the event that the patient becomes unable to make them. The proxy is another person who will speak for the patient and make decisions regarding the patient’s care. The proxy is obligated to act on the patient’s behalf according to the patient’s expressed wishes. State laws vary on the legalities of the various forms of advance directives, and nurses need to know the applicable laws in their state.