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Can Courts Force You to Receive Medical Treatment?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 19, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Most of us don't enjoy going to the doctor. Between the cost, the wait times, and the related fear about our physical or mental wellbeing, many of us only seek medical treatment when we absolutely need to.

But what if you refuse treatment even then? Can the government compel you to get medical care? The answer will depend on your age and the type of care.

Age of Medical Majority

For the most part, adults can decline medical treatment. Doctors and medical professionals require informed consent from patients before any treatment, and without that consent, they are prohibited from forcibly administering medical care. For minors under the age of 18, however, that's not always the case.

While minors have some say in their medical treatment and their parents generally have the right to make medical decisions for their children, if those decisions put a child at risk of death or severe injury, the state may intervene. In the past, Child Protective Services has gained temporary custody of the child, legally taking the child from their parents and compelling medical treatments from spinal taps to test for meningitis to chemotherapy to treat cancer. So, children may not have the same rights when it comes to declining treatment as their parents.

Type of Medical Treatment

Some medical testing and treatment may be required regardless of the person's age. Courts have continuously found that a state's interest in combating communicable diseases allows it to make certain testing, vaccination, and even quarantine mandatory. Although some states allow vaccine exemptions for medical reasons or for religious, philosophical, or personal beliefs. Testing and treatment for prisoners may also be allowed.

Psychiatric treatment, however, is a bit different. The Supreme Court has held that prosecuting officials may not administer involuntary doses of antipsychotic medicines in an effort to get defendants declared competent to stand trial or receive the death penalty.

To learn more about your rights as a patient, talk to a healthcare attorney in your area.

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