Consent to Medical Care and the Right to Refuse Care

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A patient usually has the right to accept or refuse medical care. Therefore, medical professionals must make sure a patient agrees before giving treatment. The law calls this agreement "consent".

The patient's decision must always be free and informed. This means that the decision is voluntary and the patient understands the impact of the decision. 


Definition of "Care"

When talking about the right to accept or refuse care, the word "care" includes a variety of treatments and procedures, including the following:

  • medical procedures
  • feeding
  • birth control
  • a stay in a health care institution


Free and Informed Consent

A patient's consent is valid if it is free and informed. 

Consent is "free" if the patient gives it voluntarily. This means that the patient isn't forced into consenting. If a patient gives consent because a doctor or the patient's relatives are applying pressure, then the consent is not free.

Important! When a doctor explains the risks of not receiving treatment, this isn't putting pressure on the patient. Instead, the doctor is giving the patient all the information needed to make a decision.

Consent is "informed" if the patient knows all the facts. A patient must have the all the medical information necessary to make an informed decision. So, before a patient agrees or refuses, the doctor must clearly explain the patient's health condition and the risks and results that normally go with the proposed treatment.  

To learn more about the duties of doctors, see our articles The Duty of Doctors to Inform Patients  and The Duties of Doctors Towards Patients.

What if a patient's consent or refusal is not free and informed?

Except in special situations,health-care professionals must get a patient's free and informed consent before giving treatment. If they don't get the proper consent and treat the patient anyway, the patient can file a complaint against them.


Right to Refuse Treatment

The right to consent to health care includes the right to refuse health care.

A refusal must meet the same tests as consent. In other words, refusal must be free and informed.

For example, a Jehovah's Witness can refuse a blood transfusion even if this decision could lead to death. He can refuse as long as his decision is free and informed.

In the same way, an alcoholic can refuse treatment. Her refusal is valid if she understands the treatment proposed and the impact on her health of refusing treatment.   

Important! Special rules apply to the consent or refusal of teenagers 14 to 17 years old (but under 18) and adults who are unable to make decisions for themselves.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.