What happens if you discharge from the hospital against medical advice?

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As an adult, you can refuse all forms of medical treatment if you have the mental capacity to do so. However, if the hospital performs its duties toward a patient requesting discharge properly, the patient will most likely be responsible for any negative consequences arising from their decision to refuse medical care and treatment. 

Why would an adult choose to refuse medical treatment? 

There are many reasons why an adult might refuse medical treatment for themselves. Some of the reasons include; 

  • They do not agree with the course of treatment being prescribed 
  • They cannot afford to pay for the treatment or their insurance co-pays 
  • Religious reasons 
  • Choosing to simply say no to treatment 

What happens when an adult, with capacity, refuses medical treatment? 

If a patient decides to say no to medical treatment for any of these examples, or any another reason, and does so with the legal capacity to do so, nothing more can be done to them, or for them, medically. A patient can simply refuse treatment.  

However, in doing so three factors must be met: 

  • They must have the capacity to make this decision 
  • They must make it freely and sans any coercion 
  • They must do so specifically 
  • They must do so after having been fully informed of the risks of their decision 

What is the hospital and treating physicians’ responsibilities toward the patient requesting to be discharged against medical advice? 

Before acquiescing to a patient refusing medical treatment, it is important for the doctor to do the following; 

  • Try to ascertain why the person wants to refuse medical treatment 
  • Offer alternatives within the treatment plan that the patient might be more willing to undergo 
  • Carefully explain all the risks of forgoing consenting to receiving medical treatment 
  • Determine if the patient has the capacity to refuse medical treatment 
  • Attempt to accommodate religious or cultural needs, when possible 
  • Possibly require you to wait a certain number of hours before signing yourself out of the hospital against medical advice 

If a medical profession performs all these standards of care and the person still refuses medical treatment, then the hospital and the doctor can proceed to discharge the patient against medical advice. In this situation, if the person suffers negative medical or physical consequences, because of their decision to forgo medical treatment, it is highly unlikely the medical professional or hospital will have any liability for the outcome of the patient’s worsening condition. 

Signing Discharge Papers 

Additionally, under these circumstances, the patient will most likely be required to sign a discharge form that states that the physician and the hospital staff have fully informed you of the risk factors of your decision and you fully understand that there could be negative physical consequences for refusing treatment. When you sign this form, the hospital and the treating physician’s legal responsibilities for any negative consequences you suffer become limited, if not non-existent.  

The most important thing to remember when deciding to discharge yourself against medical advice is; if you have the capacity to do so, and the hospital and physician concur that you have that capacity, and they meet all of their other obligations toward you as their patient, then you will most likely be unable to sue the hospital or the physician for any negative consequences that result from your decision. 

In the event that you find yourself in need of assistance, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780. 


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