Your Rights and Choices as a Patient

Many healthcare professionals are uncomfortable discussing end of life choices, so patients suffer needlessly to the end of their lives, unaware of their rights and options.

While wording of the legislation varies by province, as a Canadian you generally have the following rights and options:

  • Right to be Fully Informed of all Treatment Options
    This is also known as the Right of Informed Consent. Your physician is required to inform you of the risks and benefits of each treatment option as well as the probabilities of success.
  • Right to Recognition of Advance Medical Directives

    Healthcare providers and your substitute decision-maker are legally bound to follow your wishes for treatment, provided they are appropriate to your medical condition and clearly outlined in valid advance medical directives. Click here to download your complimentary Advance Care Planning Kit.

  • Right to Recognition of a Substitute Decision-Maker
    If you can no longer participate in medical decisions, you have the right to have your substitute decision-maker (SDM) speak for you with the same authority as if you were speaking for yourself.
  • Right to a Second Opinion

    It is important you feel confident of any medical decisions you need to make, and part of that confidence will come from the understanding and trust you have with your doctor.  

    If you feel you aren't getting all the information you need from your physician, or you don't feel a rapport with him or her, you can seek a second opinion.  

    All that is generally needed is a gentle query, such as "I'm having trouble deciding on the best course of action and I'm wondering if it might be possible for you to refer me for a consultation with another doctor?"

    While it is difficult to switch doctors, you may ask the consulting doctor if they'd be willing to take you on as their own patient if you have a better connection. 

  • Right to Pain and Symptoms Management

    While you have the right to refuse medication, neither the Charter nor health care legislation grant you the right to demand medication. It is not an entrenched right. That said, doctors want to "do no harm" and untreated pain is indisputably harmful.

    Terminally ill patients can typically expect pain and symptoms relief with sufficient medication and vigorous pain management even if such treatment may hasten the dying process.

  • Right to Refuse Treatment

    You have the right to refuse any and all treatment, even if refusal might bring about your death more quickly. The only exception might be emergency care when neither you nor your substitute decision-maker can make your wishes known.

  • Right to Discontinue Treatment
    Ethically and legally there is no distinction between discontinuing treatment and not having begun it in the first place. You have the right to discontinue treatment.
  • Right to Refuse Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

    Different provinces and territories have different regulations regarding refusal of CPR. 

    Ontario has a Do Not Resuscitate Confirmation Order, which tells medical personnel that you do not want CPR in an emergency. This is unique to Ontario and may be obtained irrespective of your state of health. 

    BC has a No-CPR form but it is only applicable to patients with a terminal diagnosis, or living with a life-threatening condition. It is given at the discretion of the physician.

    Other provinces have Goals of Care forms – an ongoing process as your medical condition changes.

  • Right to Refuse Food and Drink (VSED)

    In Canada, nutrition and hydration by tube is considered medical treatment. You have the right to refuse or discontinue it.

    You also have the right to refuse to take food or drink orally or to be fed or given drinks by others.  This is referred to as Voluntary Stopping of Eating and Drinking (VSED) and is supported by many palliative care providers.

    For more information on voluntary stopping of eating and drinking, download this detailed information sheet for clients.

  • Right to End Your Own Life

    It is legal to end your own life in Canada and has been since suicide was removed from the criminal code in 1972.

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