Can A Health Care Worker Refuse To Treat An Ebola Patient?

Ebola is dominating the current news cycles. Much of the news coverage focuses on patient symptoms, how the virus is spread and how health care workers can protect themselves while still providing necessary care to victims. Thus, this inevitable question is raised: can a health care worker refuse to treat a patient with a highly contagious disease?

While a definitive answer is difficult to give – indeed, the answer may depend on an applicable union contract or the policies and procedures of a particular hospital – the American Nurses Association (“ANA”) provides guidance. Its policy states that “registered nurses – based on their professional and ethical responsibilities – have the professional right to accept, reject or object in writing to any patient assignment that puts patients or themselves at serious risk for harm.” Furthermore, registered nurses have the professional obligation to bring their concerns to hospital management.

Based on the ANA’s policy statement, nurses can refuse to treat a patient with Ebola, or any other highly contagious disease, if the nurse believes caring for the patient would put him or her at “serious risk for harm.” Because patients with highly contagious diseases often present in emergency settings, the best practice is for health care workers to immediately review their individual employment guidelines to determine whether – and under what circumstances – they have the right to refuse treatment.

If you are faced with such a predicament, contact the Law Offices of Damian Christian Shammas, LLC to discuss your specific situation and how best to proceed.