The Ecphorizer

How to Protect Your Rights in a Hospital
Dorothy M. Gaev, Ph.D.

Issue #27 (November 1983)

Something the doctor didn't tell you and the nurse never knew

Most people who go to a hospital have no idea what their rights are. As a result they are often abused by hospital personnel. In order to protect your health in a hospital, you need to know your rights.

First, you have the right at all times to refuse treatment. You have the

Treatment without permission is battery.

right to refuse any medication, medical test, medical [quoteright]procedure, surgery, or a life support machine.

When you are admitted to a hospital you are forced to sign an admission form. This form is called a "blanket consent form." It says in small print that you agree to whatever your doctor or the hospital wants to do. But from a legal standpoint this form is worthless. It only means that you agree to be a patient in the hospital. It does not give the hospital the right to do anything to you without your consent. Anything you are forced to sign, such as this admission form, does not constitute consent. Don't be fooled into thinking that because you have signed the "blanket consent form" you have given up the right to refuse any treatment.

In order for your doctor to do anything to you which is invasive, that is any procedure which is going to invade your body with tubes, you will be required to sign a special consent form. Do not sign a special consent form until you know exactly what you are consenting to.

There is a law called "informed consent." This means that your doctor must tell you everything about a medical procedure before you sign a special consent form. Many doctors do not tell patients the full truth about medical procedures. Before you sign a consent form ask for every detail of the test or procedure, what your options are for anesthesia for the procedure, and what the risks are. If your doctor will not come to your hospital room and answer all your questions about a test, you would be wise to refuse.

You also have the right to leave a hospital at any time. Just because your doctor doesn't choose to release you, doesn't mean you can't leave if you choose. Keeping someone in a hospital against their will is "false imprisonment."

What do you do if your rights are violated in a hospital? Suppose a doctor or nurse does something to you against your will? Any doctor or nurse who does something to you against your will has committed a crime under civil law. The crime is called "battery." Treatment without permission is battery. If this happens to you, get a lawyer. Then bring charges against the doctor or nurse or other hospital employee who assaulted you. It doesn't matter whether or not the person who violated your rights did you any physical harm. They have broken the law by doing anything to your body against your will. The "mental anguish" of being subjected to unwanted treatment is considered "damages" under civil law.

Only if consumers bring charges against personnel in hospitals who violate their rights will hospitals be forced to respect the rights of patients. 

Dorothy M. Gaev is a pioneer in nutritional medicine and author of the book The Psychology of Loneliness.  She and her Mensan husband live in southern Florida.

More Articles by Dorothy M. Gaev, Ph.D.

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