Skip to main content

As professionals dedicated to protecting the well-being of patients, physicians have an ethical obligation to provide care in cases of medical emergency. Physicians must also uphold ethical responsibilities not to discriminate against a prospective patient on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, or other personal or social characteristics that are not clinically relevant to the individual’s care. Nor may physicians decline a patient based solely on the individual’s infectious disease status. Physicians should not decline patients for whom they have accepted a contractual obligation to provide care.

However, physicians are not ethically required to accept all prospective patients. Physicians should be thoughtful in exercising their right to choose whom to serve.

A physician may decline to establish a patient-physician relationship with a prospective patient, or provide specific care to an existing patient, in certain limited circumstances:

  1. The patient requests care that is beyond the physician’s competence or scope of practice; is known to be scientifically invalid, has no medical indication, or cannot reasonably be expected to achieve the intended clinical benefit; or is incompatible with the physician’s deeply held personal, religious, or moral beliefs in keeping with ethics guidance on exercise of conscience.
  2. The physician lacks the resources needed to provide safe, competent, respectful care for the individual. Physicians may not decline to accept a patient for reasons that would constitute discrimination against a class or category of patients.
  3. Meeting the medical needs of the prospective patient could seriously compromise the physician’s ability to provide the care needed by his or her other patients. The greater the prospective patient’s medical need, however, the stronger is the physician’s obligation to provide care, in keeping with the professional obligation to promote access to care.
  4. The individual is abusive or threatens the physician, staff, or other patients, unless the physician is legally required to provide emergency medical care. Physicians should be aware of the possibility that an underlying medical condition may contribute to this behavior.
AMA Principles of Medical Ethics: I, VI, VIII, IX
Read the Principles

Council Reports

Ethics Cases & Legal Briefs