Bill of rights: Does a patient have the right to refuse medical treatment?

You have the right to refuse medical treatment. But there are three exceptions to the right to refuse treatment. They occur when others are subsidising the patient’s income during his or her period of injury, sickness and inability to work.

Here are the three main exceptions to the right to refuse:

Workers’ Compensation

If you have been hurt or become sick as a result of your work or your work environment, and you are receiving income through workers’ compensation, then you may not have the right to refuse treatment. While specific laws addressing this issue vary from state to state, the idea is that an employee cannot legally continue to benefit financially by refusing treatment.

There will be gray areas, of course. There may be times a patient wants to refuse treatment for a medical problem unrelated to the injury or sickness that keeps him or her out of work. Refusing to get a flu shot is not the same as refusing a surgery that will repair someone’s body. Drug dependencies, whether or not they are the result of whatever treatment the employee is receiving, may affect that employee’s right to refuse treatment.

Employees may not have the right to refuse to go through a detox program, for example, depending on the results of those drug tests. This varies by state law. If you are receiving workers’ compensation and wish to refuse any sort of treatment, be sure you take the right steps and notify the right people in order to make that treatment refusal decision.

Social Security Disability (SSD)

Similar to workers’ compensation, people who receive social security disability may also find that they cannot legally refuse medical treatment. When taxpayers are providing you with income because you are sick or hurt, and if that illness or injury can be improved or repaired well enough so you can once again support yourself, you will not be allowed to refuse treatment. If you do, you will yield your right to receive that SSD support.As in workers’ comp, there are gray areas to this rule. SSD recipients are expected to pursue all “reasonable” forms of treatment. Of course, “reasonable” is left up to interpretation and treatment outcomes are never certain. If you are receiving SSD payments and wish to refuse any sort of treatment, be sure you take the right steps to make that treatment refusal decision. 

Private Disability

You may have chosen private disability insurance through your employer or individually through a company like Aflac or MassMutual. If your injury or sickness is unrelated to your employment but is affecting your ability to work or support yourself, that’s when your disability insurance will subsidize your income during your convalescence. Your ability to refuse treatment will vary by insurer.

In general, the rules for refusal will be similar to those for Social Security disability and workers’ compensation. The disability insurer won’t be willing to let you choose not to be treated if that refusal means they will have to pay you more money over a longer period of time. If you refuse treatment, you may forfeit those payments.If you are receiving any sort of disability payment and wish to refuse any sort of treatment, be sure you take the right steps to make that treatment refusal decision.

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