Is it OK for a cancer patient to refuse treatment?


My 81 year old husband has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the lung that has spread to liver and Lymph nodes. He is contemplating refusing any treatments. Is that correct? I don’t feel that the Lord would approve of it.
Please advise


Yes, you can refuse cancer treatments, or any treatments, that are burdensome, unaffordable, or otherwise not worth it in the grand scheme of things. Cancer treatments are painful and burdensome. Many people opt to try the treatments. Many people opt not to. Depending on the cancer and it’s stage, it may not be worth all the pain and suffering and only the patient can determine that worth.


Generally the answer is yes. It is a prudential judgment that requires weighing the hardship or receiving the treatment against the potential of a favorable outcome. Even a burdensome treatment may be considered “ordinary” care and therefore probably required if the chances of recovery are very high


Thank you for your prompt reply. I guess my concern is: Does the Catholic Church approve of refusing treatment for cancer?


The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
2278. Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.
The key principle in this statement is that one does not will to cause death. When a person has an underlying terminal disease, or their heart, or some other organ, cannot work without mechanical assistance, or a therapy being proposed is dangerous, or has little chance of success, then not using that machine or that therapy results in the person dying from the disease or organ failure they already have. The omission allows nature to takes its course. It does not directly kill the person, even though it may contribute to the person dying earlier than if aggressive treatment had been done.


Thanks. This answer is really helpful and having the Cathecism’s quote is something I can show my husband to help him be at peace as he follows the Lord’s Will.


Yes, let him die in peace but make him as comfortable as possible. My Father was about the same age when he was diagnosed with stage four cancer and I more or less forced him to take the treatments. They did no good at all that I could tell and it just put him through a lot of unnecessary stress.

Make sure you get your Pastor in to give him the Last Rites immediately, don’t wate until the end.

My brother refused treatment for his stage four cancer because he deemed it useless and would cause a lot of unnecessary stress. He died just as the Priest finished the Last Rites.



Consider having your husband screened for clinical depression to ensure that he is making a free choice.


See also the Catholic Religious and Ethical Directives

  1. A person may forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life. Disproportionate means are those that in the patient’s judgment do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or entail an excessive burden, or impose excessive expense on the family or the community.


DEFINITELY have him or both of you speak with your priest about the matter to weigh everything out. It helps to have someone to discuss it with who is not emotionally invested, and can give you good clarity on Church teaching.

And definitely have the priest give him last rites, and follow it up as often as you can with receiving the Eucharist, Confession, and Anointing of the Sick.

I would also ask the priest for the Apostolic Pardon (also called Apostolic Benediction). It is a plenary indulgence for any remaining temporal punishment due for our sins.

God bless you in these times. It can be very tough. I lost my mother to cancer last year. She had started on chemotherapy, but it was simply too much for her and made her worse than the cancer. She chose to stop treatment and let nature take its course.

I will pray for you and your husband.


Praying for you both. God bless you.


It’s fairly reasonable at this point for him to refuse treatment considering the chances of surviving stage four cancer is low, the treatment is excruciating, at this age even if he didn’t have cancer he probably wouldn’t have much more time to live and cancer treatment for stage four is extremely expensive.


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