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Patient Rights (cont.)

Right to Refuse Care - Adults, Parents, and Children

Along with the right to adequate and appropriate healthcare, competent adult patients have the right to refuse health care (it is wise to document that the patient clearly understands the risks and benefits of their decision), but exceptions do occur.

  • Patients with an altered mental status because of alcohol, drugs, brain injury, or medical or psychiatric illness may not be able to make a competent decision; then the patient may need to have a person legally appointed to make medical decisions.
  • Although laws have established the right of an adult to refuse life-sustaining treatment, they do not allow parents or guardians to deny children necessary medical care.
  • In the case of Prince v. Massachusetts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled: "The right to practice religion freely does not include the liberty to expose the community or child to communicable disease, or the latter to ill health or death. Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion." Legal advice and Child Protective Services should be sought and informed about these occurrences to avoid counter charges of assault and battery by the parents or child.

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