Is it selfish to give up cancer treatment?

When Laura’s dad decided to stop going for his cancer treatment, she felt angry and disappointed. “I couldn’t understand why

When Laura’s dad decided to stop going for his cancer treatment, she felt angry and disappointed. “I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to continue with his treatments,” said Laura.

“I felt like he was being selfish and that he didn’t love me and mom enough to try his hardest,” she confessed. But when Laura’s dad explained to her that the treatments are making him ‘lose’ himself and that he would rather spend the rest of his life not hooked up to the IV, she began to understand.

There are people who choose not to get any treatment for their illness and this can be very hard for family and friends who may not agree with this choice.

Dr Kate Granger who decided to not continue with her own cancer treatment said, “When people like me decide not to prolong life, does that mean I am not strong or fighting to stay alive?”

“As a doctor, I am very realistic about what treatments can achieve. I have said I will accept further treatment only if it enhances the quality, not the quantity, of the days I have left.

“But I’m choosing to take control of how I live — I just want my old life back, even if it’s for only a couple of months.”

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), for the most part, people who are able to make decisions for themselves have the right to refuse any and all treatment.

As someone who cares about and supports a person with a terminal illness, you may wonder why they would make this choice. They might have health problems that make cancer treatment harder or more risky or feel that with their age and life history, it’s just “their time.” Sometimes, the person’s religious beliefs come into play.

ACS believes that it is OK to ask your loved one about their reasons for refusing treatment and that even though the answer may be hard to hear, the choice to refuse treatment is the patient’s – no one else’s. If you’re facing this situation, they say that telling the patient what you think can be a good thing. You can try something like, “I hadn’t thought about it that way, and I’m glad you shared your point of view with me.” Or, “I wish you would talk to a doctor about treatment options, but I’ll support your choice and help you through this time the best that I can.”

On the other hand, many people believe that life is a gift and is so valuable that we should try everything we can to preserve it. Stories where some patients have made unexpected recoveries encourage people to believe that a miracle can happen to their family or friend too. And new medical breakthroughs also give hope to those are optimistic about giving it a fighting chance.


Is it selfish to say no to treatment? Or should the patient be able to decide what they want to do?