A Doctor's Refusal to Treat a Patient May Lead to Malpractice Liability

An issue currently arising in courts across the country demonstrates a problem with medical care that is provided in Catholic and other religious hospitals, especially hospitals that are located away from urban centers. When a hospital, doctor, or other health care provider refuses to treat a patient because of a religious objection to either the patient or the medical procedure requested, and the patient is injured or dies from not receiving the requested treatment, the medical providers may be liable for medical malpractice. Malpractice liability can attach in such cases even when the medical provider believes they have a protected religious objection to the particular procedure being requested.

Medical Providers Are Usually Permitted to Refuse to Perform Certain Procedures

doctor-2-1518263As a general rule, medical providers and hospitals are permitted to refuse to perform certain procedures on patients, such as abortions or sterilization procedures, if the doctor or hospital has a religious objection to the procedure. This issue is most common within the large network of hospitals in the United States that are operated by the Catholic church. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops sets the ethical standards for Catholic hospitals, known as Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services, or ERDs, which ban the direct sterilization of men or women, other forms of birth control, certain prenatal genetic tests, and abortions of viable fetuses, even in emergency situations when the life of the woman is in danger. The Catholic church claims that such procedures are deemed “intrinsically immoral.”

If Refusal To Treat a Patient Leads to Injury or Death, Medical Providers May Be Held Accountable

In some situations, a medical provider’s use of the ERDs or analogous objections to providing medical care may result in a patient becoming seriously injured or losing their life if they are unable to receive treatment by an alternate medical provider in time. It is possible that doctors or hospitals could be violating the professional standard of care and the Hippocratic Oath by allowing a patient to be hurt or die based on such a refusal. By refusing to treat certain patients in certain circumstances, medical providers could be liable for for medical malpractice for the damages that are caused to a patient.

Recent Wave of Lawsuits Against Catholic Hospitals Attempts to Change the Practice of Refusal Based on ERDs

Many lawsuits have been filed in the past few years against Catholic and other religions hospitals to try and alleviate the harm caused to patients by these institutions’ use of ERDs to refuse treatment to patients. According to one news source, suits have been filed on behalf of several patients who have been harmed by the lack of treatment they desired or deserved at a Catholic hospital. In one such case, a hospital claimed that the ERDs prevented them from telling a patient that she would have a potentially dangerous miscarriage without treatment, and the hospital declined to tell her of the status of her pregnancy. The patient was sent home with no knowledge of her medical situation and had an unexpected miscarriage a few days later, which could have been prevented. Although the case filed based on this event has been dismissed, the woman still may be able to pursue a medical malpractice claim against the hospital for their conduct.

Have you or a Loved one Been Refused Treatment?

If you or a loved one has been refused treatment by any medical provider and suffered injury or death, whether it was a religiously affiliated provider or not, you may be entitled to damages. Although many factors apply to a hospital’s decision to deny treatment to a patient, a skilled Maryland medical malpractice attorney can help you decide if a lawsuit is appropriate. The Baltimore and Washington, D.C. medical malpractice lawyers at Wais, Vogelstein, Forman & Offutt can walk you through your potential malpractice claim or birth injury case, and help you seek the compensation that you deserve. Contact the Maryland malpractice attorneys at Wais, Vogelstein, Forman & Offutt now to discuss your case. We represent victims of medical malpractice and negligence nationwide. Call us today at (410) 567-0800 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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