Right to refuse treatment with psychotropic medication

D. B. Brushwood, J. L. Fink

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4 Scopus citations


The law regarding refusal of psychiatric patients to take psychotropic medication is reviewed. The law in this area is traced through its evolution beginning in the 1960s when failure to administer medication to psychiatric patients was considered mistreatment of the patient. The legal basis for forcible administration of drugs is reviewed, and a discussion of cases in which patients refused to accept treatment on religious grounds is presented. When children are involved, the courts are generally in accord that the parents' right to freedom of religion ends where the child's right to life begins or when there is a threat to public health and safety. In cases involving adults, without a threat to public health or safety, relevant opinions rule that medical treatment should not be ordered against the patient's religious beliefs because it would constitute a violation of the First Amendment. Two leading cases involving the forcible administration of medication, Rennie v. Klein and Rogers V. Okin, held that administration should be limited to emergency situations when there is substantial risk of injury to the patient or others in the hospital. The Supreme Court made it clear that the right to refuse must be derived from state law, not from the federal Constitution, apparently giving health-care professionals broad leeway in exercising professional judgement in this area.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2709-2714
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Hospital Pharmacy
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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