7 Common Situations Where a Doctor Can Refuse To Treat a Patient

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the future is unpredictable. Anything that happens in one corner of the earth can have its consequence, or rather a great influence, globally.

One of the best career since time immemorial has been that of a doctor. They are still now regarded as the most influential entity globally, and many practise medicine because of the fame and influence attached to it. 

After all, why not? A doctor gives life, even save and improve one. Why couldn’t they be regarded as influential? Many consider doctors as great as a Higher Energy on earth.

But all things kept aside; sometimes even this ‘higher energy’ has its boundaries; boundaries which they have to entertain because of legal obligations. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Are doctors legally obliged to help? 

Doctors take an oath to care for and cure their patients, regarding their skills and expertise. It naturally becomes their legal duty when they agree to treat a patient who seeks their treatment.  

But there are still situations when a doctor can refuse to treat a patient. 

If they are not aware of the legal landscape, doctors may face professional and personal consequences. 

For instance, if a doctor is dining in a restaurant, and there is a customer nearby suffering a seizure, the doctor is under no oath of duty to help that person. That is until and unless the doctor voluntarily assists the patient. 

Now here, if there’s any negligence while assisting the patient, the patient may file a case of malpractice.

7 common situations where a doctor can refuse to treat a patient

Source: Stocksnap

  1. Unsafe conditions

Like mentioned before, the doctor might refuse to treat the patient if the doctor thinks the condition is not suitable. 

  1. Workplace hazard

If there is any workplace hazard within the clinic or the hospital, the doctor, fearing their safety and their patients, can refuse the treatment. Workplace hazard could be a firebreak too. 

  1. Their safety is endangered 

If the doctor feels threatened that their safety is in danger, and while doing the operation/treatment, they might affect the patient willingly; at those times, the doctor can refuse to treat the patient. 

  1. Increased susceptibility to infection

Likewise, if the doctor is unwell or is suffering and might communicate that illness to the patient, they may refuse to treat them. Here, they might not even cure; instead, they put the patient’s life in danger if they choose to do otherwise. 

So it’s always advisable the doctor is in good health before they treat the patient. 

  1. Fear of minor/possible injury

If the doctor thinks after doing the treatment, the patient can incur a minor injury or there’s a possibility of any other side effects, they might refuse to treat a patient. Here, if the patient or their family agrees to it, they have to sign a document that affirms that they are aware of the consequence and would still want the doctor to perform the treatment. 

  1. Dangers inherent to work 

Again, the doctor can refuse to treat a patient if they know there is an implicit risk involved while conducting the operation. Though there is the inherent risk involved in a case of any operation in healthcare, if the risk is, well, too risky, the doctors may refuse to treat a patient. 

  1. The medical condition is too overwhelming to be treated

The doctor’s job is to cure the disease, but there are few stances where a particular disease is incurable. Here, even though the person comes to treat it, their lives may be in danger if the doctor operates. 

So, even though healthcare promotes cure and care, it’s up to the doctor to determine whether they can really cure or care for that patient or not. 

Doctor’s duty is to care with diligence 

The doctor must understand every minute detail before refusing the treatment. It is illegal on the doctors’ part to refuse the treatment based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or even the patient’s sexual orientation. 

If they breach those, they might face serious lawsuits, which can hamper their professional and personal lives. Though these are some common situations where a doctor can refuse to treat a patient, it’s best advised to consult the hospital/clinic or the place they practise their work before refusing because there are many legal implications involved.


Source: Wikimedia Commons



  • Shruti Dugar

    Shruti is a Copywriter & Editor. She specializes in writing about eCommerce, SaaS, Edtech & Marketing. She authored & self-published a book that is available on Kindle. Apart from reading for work, she spends most of her time reading underrated books, riding her bike to get the creativity flowing, and exploring veg restaurants.

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