Author Question: Refusing Medical Treatment

Carrie Asks:

My novel is set in the US and my MC, who’s eighteen, is injured. He’s suffering from concussion, blood loss, and hypothermia, and is very weak and quite disorientated. He is, however, conscious and responding, and adamant that he does not want to be treated or taken to a hospital (and the plot requires him not to be). I understand that he’d be able to refuse treatment if he signed a form saying so. My question is, is there a standard procedure that an EMT would follow before letting him sign?

Jordyn Says: Thanks for e-mailing me your question. You have an interesting scenario here.

I’m going to come from the standpoint of this person presenting to the ER. Put simply, we are not going to let this patient sign out AMA. A couple of things in your statement about his condition will prevent this. Almost everything you’ve listed as far as his medical condition makes it impossible for him to make a reasonable decision regarding his care–concussion, disorientation, hypothermia. Even though he can talk, it doesn’t mean he has enough medical capacity to make an appropriate decision regarding his care until these issues are straightened out.

We would do everything in our power to keep him in the ED. Considering that– you have a couple of options. Make him a lot less sick. Maybe just a few bumps and scrapes. Or, he could elope from the ED somehow, but if we were really concerned about his medical condition we might send the police to fetch him back. Of course, this could add conflict into your story.

I did verify this through an EMS friend of mine as well. The issue is not whether or not they can talk, it’s whether or not they are medically competent to make a decision about refusing care. This character’s condition precludes that.

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