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by Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA

The Right to Refuse Medical Treatment

§ 13.09
Key point 13-09. Competent adults have the right to refuse medical treatment on the basis of their religious beliefs, including potentially life-saving treatment. However, they do not have the right to withhold life-saving medical treatment from their minor children.

Several courts have dealt with the right of an individual to refuse medical treatment on religious grounds. Such cases often involve treatment that is apparently necessary to save the diseased or injured person's life. In a majority of cases, courts have upheld the right of an adult to refuse potentially life-saving medical treatment on religious grounds, unless the individual is (1) mentally incompetent, (2) the parent and sole provider of young children, or (3) a pregnant woman. The majority rule was well-summarized by a New York court:

As a general rule, every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine ...

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