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Who decides what treatment I receive?

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If you have mental capacity, you can make the decision about what treatment you want from the options offered to you by the doctor.  You have the legal right to refuse any medical treatment, including life-sustaining treatment (like resuscitation, artificial nutrition and hydration, or breathing machines).

The General Medical Council’s (GMC) Guidance on treatment and care towards the end of life states that your doctor should help you decide which treatment is right for you. Your doctor:

  • should explain to you in clear language what your treatment options are;
  • should explain the pros and cons of each treatment and give you time, information and help so that you can make your decision;
  • can recommend a treatment to you, but not pressure you to accept it.

Unlike the refusal of treatment, a request for treatment is not legally binding. This is because no one has the legal right to demand treatment. If you ask for a treatment that your doctor does not believe is appropriate, they should:

  • discuss your reasons for wanting the treatment with you;
  • explain why they don’t think it is appropriate and discuss other options;
  • refer you to another doctor for a second opinion if you ask for one.

Capacity in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, a ‘common law’ (court law) test is used to decide if a person has capacity:

  • Can the patient understand and retain information about their treatment?
  • Does the patient believe that information?
  • Can the patient weigh up that information, balancing risks and needs, to arrive at a decision?