Does a doctor have the right to refuse a patient treatment?

July 21, 2014

Has a doctor refused to treat you, and you believe your rights may have been violated? Here’s what you need to know about the law.
Canadian Medical Association

The code of ethics created by CMA foresees the right of doctors to refuse treatment of a patient under certain circumstances:

"In providing medical service, do not discriminate against any patient on such grounds as age, gender, marital status, medical condition, national or ethnic origin, physical or mental disability, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. This does not abrogate the physician’s right to refuse to accept a patient for legitimate reasons."

What are these “legitimate reasons”? According to the CMA:

  • When the personal values of a physician can influence the care and treatment of the patient.
  • When care is no longer necessary and the doctor has advised the patient within a reasonable time delay before the end of treatment.

On the other hand, the code of ethics requires a physician to "provide all appropriate assistance to anyone in urgent need of medical assistance."

Code of Ethics of Physicians of Quebec

In Quebec, the rules are the same; however, the code of ethics also foresees that:

"The doctor may terminate a relationship when there is good and sufficient reason to do so.”

Some of these reasons:

• Trust in the relationship has been broken.

• A patient encourages the physician commit fraud; or asks the physician to engage in illegal activity.

• The doctor who refuses to treat a patient must refer them to another doctor and ensure adequate follow-up is provided before ending the relationship.

Code of Ethics of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick

The New Brunswick code of ethics is the same as the CMA, but goes a little further to add:

“The categories of discrimination are not closed. It is also improper to deny access to other "classes" of patients. Examples might include current and former patients of a particular physician or physicians, or a class based on some other factor such as place of residence. Similarly, the right to deny access may be limited according to availability of alternate care."

Laws vary slightly from province to province. For example, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario also rely on the Human Rights Act to regulate a doctor’s right to refuse a patient.

It’s always important to know your rights, so when in doubt, contact the governing body which oversees the practice of medicine in your province.

Does a doctor have the right to refuse a patient treatment?
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