Do You Have the Right to Leave the Hospital When You Want To?

In most circumstances, yes

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You have certain rights in the hospital, one of which includes the right to leave the hospital when you want to. This is true even if your healthcare provider wants you to stay. It is called being discharged against medical advice (AMA).

The right isn't absolute, however, and there are situations where a hospital can force you to stay. This includes having a legal guardian whose decisions override yours, being legally declared incompetent, or being incarcerated (in prison).

This article looks at when you do and don't have the right to leave the hospital by your own choice.

Patient with suitcase ready to leave hospital room
Martin Barraud / caiaimages / Getty Images

Your Rights to Leave the Hospital

The typical hospital most people think of are acute-care hospitals. This is where you go for surgery and other scheduled procedures as well as for emergency treatment and unscheduled procedures.

Other hospitals are intended for longer-term care, often for rehabilitation after surgery or a serious injury. These are called long-term acute or subacute hospitals.

If you are in either type of hospital, you generally have a right to leave whenever you wish. Medical personnel cannot keep you against your will.

But the right isn't absolute. 

Leaving Against Medical Advice

To be discharged AMA, you will need to sign a form stating that you wish to leave even though your healthcare provider thinks it's a bad decision. The signature waives your right to sue for complications arising from the early discharge. So the hospital will be held harmless for any problems you have after leaving the building.

While a healthcare provider can strongly advise against the discharge, they cannot stop you or threaten you in any way. This includes suggesting that your insurance company can refuse payment of some or all of your bill if you are discharged AMA. This is generally not true.

A study conducted by the Pritzker School of Medicine found that, after assessing nine years of medical records of 46,319 patients hospitalized in 13 Illinois hospitals, there was not one instance where an insurer denied payment due to an AMA discharge.

Do You Have the Right to Stay?

In the same way that you have to right to leave early, you also have a right to refuse discharge if you think you're being released too soon. You would need to lodge an appeal with the hospital and possibly pay more (in terms of co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance costs) depending on what your insurer agrees to cover.

When You May Not Leave

There are situations where you don't have the right to check yourself out of the hospital. This is usually because someone else is legally responsible for you.

If You’re Being Committed

You may lose the right to an early hospital discharge if you're declared competent by a court of law. That can happen if you have a serious psychiatric problem or substance abuse problem that puts you or others in harm's way. Moreover, a healthcare provider must legally declare that you're a threat to yourself or others.

The hospital or an individual such as a spouse or family member will need to petition the court. If the court agrees, you can be temporarily committed.

Thereafter, medical decisions are no longer in your control until the court decides that you are competent to make your own decisions.

If You Have a Legal Guardian

If you have a legal guardian, only they have the right to request an AMA discharge. For children, this usually means their parents.

It is only until you reach the age of emancipation that your parents no longer have the right to direct your medical decisions. In most states, the age of emancipation is 18. The exceptions are Alabama and Nebraska, where the age of majority is 19, and Mississippi and Puerto Rico, where it is 21.

Some adults also have legal guardians. One is often appointed for adults with special needs who have difficulties making their own decisions. In such cases, the guardian can request the AMA and is responsible for signing the paperwork.

If You're Incarcerated

Your rights are different if you're hospitalized while in the custody of law enforcement. In such cases, you are not free to go whenever you want. Only the correctional facility holding you can authorize an AMA discharge.

With that said, a legal appeal can be lodged on your behalf by someone who you appoint as your surrogate. This may include a family member, a non-incarcerated friend, or a specific clinician at the correctional facility.

Even so, from a legal perspective, it may be easier to request a delayed discharge for medical reasons rather than an early discharge.


You can usually discharge yourself AMA. You must waive your right to sue for anything that happens after you leave.

You cannot leave AMA if you're legally someone else's responsibility. Only the legally responsible party can make an early discharge decision.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Choi M, Kim H, Qian H, Palepu A. Readmission rates of patients discharged against medical advice: a matched cohort study. PLoS ONE. 2011;6(9):e24459. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024459

  2. Schaefer GR, Matus H, Schumann JH, et al. Financial responsibility of hospitalized patients who left against medical advice: medical urban legend?J Gen Intern Med. 2012;27(7):825-830. doi:10.1007/s11606-012-1984-x

  3. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Quality improvement organizations.

  4. Hedman LC, Petrila J, Fisher WH, Swanson JW, Dingman DA, Burris S. State laws on emergency holds for mental health stabilization. Psychiatr Serv. 2016;67(5):529-35. doi:10.1176/

  5. Cornell Law School. Emancipation of minors.

  6. American Medical Association. Who should make decisions for unrepresented patients who are incarcerated?

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.