Massachusetts Medical Society: Legal Advisor: Who Has Rights in an End of Life Care Situation?

Legal Advisor: Who Has Rights in an End of Life Care Situation?

Legal Advisor: Who Has Rights in an End of Life Care Situation?

Who Has the Right?

Patients have the legal right to preserve their bodily integrity by making their own health care decisions. This right is very strong and is supported by significant case law and history.  If a patient's right to refuse care at the end of life is violated, this legal right can form the basis for medical malpractice liability ranging from battery to failure to obtain informed consent for a medical procedure. Patients have a right to refuse treatments, including but not limited to refusing tubes, catheters, and needles. The right to refuse medical treatments stems from a person's constitutional right to privacy. Physicians may rely upon the emergency privilege to allow them to act in the "best interest" of the patient, but this privilege does not apply when the patient has explicitly refused treatment and may result in litigation.

The physician's role is to ensure that the patient, or the patient's decision maker, is well informed so that he or she can make this most pivotal decision. Health care providers need to be educated in the legal rights of patients to refuse care (knowledge) and how to communicate about death under stressful situations (competence).  

Learning Objectives

  • Assess why the right to refuse treatment in an end of life care situation is protected by law.
  • Discuss the ethical considerations of allowing physicians to withdraw or withhold treatment.
  • Compare the process for refusing treatment of competent patients with the process of refusing treatment of incompetent patients.
  • Explain the historical progress of end of life care and how modern medicine has worked to create better system.


Matthew Mortensen, Content Contributor

Course Fees

Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) Member: $15.00 
Non-MMS Member: $30.00 
Allied Health Professionals: $12.00



CME Credit

1.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ , risk management study

Accreditation Statement
The Massachusetts Medical Society is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

AMA Credit Designation Statement
The Massachusetts Medical Society designates this enduring material for a maximum of  1.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

This activity meets the criteria for the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine for risk management study, including 1.00 credit in end-of-life care.

MOC Approval Statement 
Through the American Board of Medical Specialties ("ABMS") ongoing commitment to increase access to practice relevant Maintenance of Certification ("MOC") Activities through the ABMS Continuing Certification Directory , this activity has met the requirements as an MOC Part II CME Activity (apply toward general CME requirement) for the following ABMS Member Boards:

Allergy and Immunology
Colon and Rectal Surgery
Family Medicine
Nuclear Medicine
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Preventive Medicine
Psychiatry & Neurology

National Commission on Certification of Physicians Assistant (NCCPA).
Physician Assistants may claim a maximum of 1.00  Category 1 credits for completing this activity. NCCPA accepts AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ from organizations accredited by ACCME or a recognized state medical society.

A score of 70% or higher is required to receive  AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™.

Activity Term

Original Released Date: June 15, 2017
Review Date: N/A
Termination Date: June 15, 2020

System Requirements

Windows, XP, Vista, 7, 8  
Mac OSX 10.6 higher

Most modern browsers including:  
Firefox 18.0+  
Chrome 26+  
Safari 5+  
Flash player is required for some Online CME courses.

iOS devices beginning with OS version 5 or higher (includes, iPhone, ipad and iTouch devices)  
Android devices including tablets and phones.  
Windows RT and tablets on Windows 8 are also supported. 

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