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There are three legally distinct situations involving refusal of medical care:

1. refusal of care by a patient with a terminal illness

2. refusal of care by an adult with a treatable condition

3. refusal of care by the parents or guardian of a legally incompetent patient

The refusal of care is usually based on religious beliefs and thus is strongly protected by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. The right to refuse care is not unlimited, especially in regard to minors, but judicial intervention is always necessary to render care against the wishes of the patient or of a minor's parents.

The most common situation involves a competent adult who refuses medical care for a terminal illness. This may be a complete refusal of care or a limited refusal encompassing only certain, more extreme measures. The courts are supportive of this right to refuse care if the patient is an adult and is fully competent when the decision is made.


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