Supreme Court: Patients cannot dictate treatment to doctors

Supreme Court rules in favor of doctors' right to dictate treatment. Source: Tairo Lutter/Postimees/Scanpix

The Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of Estonia on Thursday rejected an appeal in which the plaintiffs demanded that healthcare providers use a generally unaccepted treatment method. Citing the Law of Obligations Act as well as prior practice, the Supreme Court explained that a patient cannot dictate to their doctor what treatment methods to use.

The Supreme Court found that in certain cases, a currently generally unaccepted treatment method may be used, but the patient does not have the right to demand such treatment, spokespeople for Estonia's top court said.

The Supreme Court accepted for review a case in which the appellant is seeking a ruling on whether courts have the right to, upon the request of a patient or their next of kin, force doctors to opt for certain specific methods of treatment, daily Eesti Päevaleht reported on Tuesday.

Patient's mother demands vitamin C treatment for cancer

The basis for the case was an appeal filed by the mother of a 16-year-old girl with cancer who finds that her daughter could have been treated using other procedures.

The mother and daughter filed a civil suit against the Tallinn Children's Hospital Foundation in which it sought for the hospital to employ a treatment method based on high doses of vitamin C on the patient in question, the court spokesperson said. According to the patient's doctor, the patient was administered increased doses of vitamin C for a short period of time, but the doctor opted to abandon this treatment method after the patient's condition worsened. The hospital noted that this was not a generally accepted method of treatment.

Harju County Court rejected the suit, noting that the court lacked the necessary competence to determine treatment decisions requiring specialized knowledge.

Tallinn Circuit Court dismissed the appeal on March 22, agreeing with the lower-tier court's reasoning and adding that a patient cannot demand the use of a generally unacceped method of treatment.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs sought for the top court to overturn the lower two courts' rulings. Parties to the case argued first and foremost over whether a patient has the right to demand a healthcare provider's use of a treatment method based on high doses of vitamin C which the plaintiff's doctor found to be scientifically unproven.

Top court: Only if the healthcare provider agrees

The Supreme Court, however, dismissed the plaintiffs' appeal and left the circuit court's ruling in place.

The Supreme Court finds that the law provides for healthcare providers to use a generally unaccepted method of treatment on patients in very serious condition in cases in which the usual methods are likely to yield less success, the patient has been informed of the nature and possible consequences of the method in question, and the patient has provided their consent for the use of this method.

The patient does not, however, have the right to demand such treatment, and generally unaccepted treatment methods can only be used on agreement, i.e. only if the healthcare provider agrees to it.

Click here (link in Estonian) to read the Supreme Court decision in full.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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