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Can I refuse medical treatment?

If you are an adult with mental capacity, you must give your consent before you can be given medical treatment.

What is consent?

Consent means giving your permission for a healthcare professional to give you a particular medical examination or treatment. You must be given all of the information you need to make a decision about whether or not to consent. This includes what the examination or treatment involves, any benefits or risks, whether there are any reasonable alternatives and what will happen if you do not have the treatment.

Consent must be voluntary. This means that you must make the decision whether or not to consent and not be pressured by anyone else.

You must also have capacity to give consent.

What is capacity?

Capacity is the ability to make a decision for yourself. It is time and decision-specific. This means that whether or not you have capacity depends on when the decision needs to be made and what the decision is. So, you might lack capacity to make a decision on one day but be able to make that decision at a later date. This might be, for example, because you have dementia and your ability to remember information differs from one day to the next.

Also, you might have capacity to make some decisions but not others. For example you might have capacity to decide what you want to eat every day but not to understand what will happen if you refuse life-sustaining treatment.

The law says that people must be assumed to have capacity unless it is proven otherwise. However, if a decision needs to be made about your health or care and a healthcare professional thinks that you might lack capacity, then they will need to assess whether or not you have the capacity to make that decision.

Refusing medical treatment

You are able to request a treatment or suggest to your doctor why you feel a particular treatment is right for you, but you do not have the right to demand a treatment. This is because doctors do not have to give you treatment just because you ask for it. Doctors decide whether treatment is medically appropriate for your condition and then you decide whether or not you want that treatment.

If you have capacity you have the right to refuse any medical treatment. This is so even if the treatment is necessary to save your life.

You can also make an Advance Directive, sometimes known as a Living Will, that records any treatments you want to refuse. Making an Advance Directive means that if you lack capacity in the future, your doctors will know your wishes.

More information on refusing medical treatment can be found at the website of our partner charity, Compassion in Dying.

Tell your story

Telling personal stories can be extremely powerful. We are building a network of people willing to share their experience to help us strengthen the case for law change.

We know stories are very personal, so rest assured that we will not publicise anything until we have spoken to you and you’ve given your final approval.

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Hospices and palliative care

Palliative care in the UK is the best in the world and for many people with a terminal illness, it will be able to meet your needs. Palliative care is provided in hospices but it is also provided at community level by doctors and nurses. Your GP should be able to help you find out more about what support is available in your area. You can find out more about hospice care from Hospice UK.

Compassion in Dying

We have a partner charity named Compassion in Dying, which provides people with information on how to ensure your decisions are respected in healthcare. They work to inform and empower people to exercise their rights and choices around end-of-life care.