Can a Doctor Refuse to Treat Me for Declining a C-section or Other Medical Interventions?


“Can my doctor fire me for ignoring their medical advice?” It’s a familiar question in birth groups, but the answers people get are often inaccurate or incomplete. The simple answer is that, yes, in most cases a doctor can refuse to continue seeing you if you ignore their medical recommendations—or for just about any other reason at all.

What a doctor can’t do is abandon you at the last minute or refuse to provide treatment if you show up at the hospital in labor. So when can a doctor refuse to treat you, and when must they offer treatment? Here are the basics.

The 30-Day Rule for Firing Patients

Doctors can’t be forced to treat patients. Georgia courts have held for 60 years, however, that doctors also have a duty to ensure patients receive appropriate care if they are no longer able to treat the patient.

Specifically, the law requires: “Before a physician can abandon or withdraw from a case without liability therefor, he must either give reasonable notice or provide a competent physician in his place.”

In general, a doctor must give a patient 30 days to find a new physician. So a doctor can’t typically terminate the relationship on the spot. And a doctor absolutely cannot deny you treatment at the hospital when you are in labor.

When is a Doctor Required to Offer Treatment?

Doctors can’t refuse to treat you in all contexts. A doctor can’t drop you as a patient with no notice. So for a doctor to abandon a patient a week before her due date would typically be impermissible. A federal law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, requires hospitals to provide stabilizing care to people in labor. So a doctor can’t refuse to admit you to the hospital or decline treatment if you show up in labor. Learn more about the EMTALA here.

What to Do if You Think Your Doctor Might Refuse Treatment

If your doctor has threatened to fire you for asserting your wishes, your best option is to find another provider. Numerous Georgia doctors respect the right of birthing people to make their own decisions, even when they don’t agree with those decisions. There is no reason to give money to a doctor who doesn’t respect you.

If insurance or other issues limit your provider options, your first step should be to begin recording all interactions with your provider. Learn more about doing that here. This creates an objective record in case you must later file a medical board complaint against your provider. Providers who abandon their patients with less than 30 days’ notice are subject to discipline by the Georgia Medical Board.

If your doctor is threatening to terminate you if you don’t schedule a c-section, one option is to avoid fighting with your doctor over the issue and simply show up at the hospital when you are in labor. This is an imperfect strategy, though, and often means having a very difficult birth.

Has a doctor refused to treat you? Share your story in the comments.