Legal Briefing: Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking

Journal of Clinical Ethics, Vol. 25, No. 1 (2014)

Posted: 1 Mar 2014 Last revised: 1 Jul 2014

See all articles by Thaddeus Mason Pope

Thaddeus Mason Pope

Mitchell Hamline School of Law; Queensland University of Technology - Australian Health Law Research Center; Saint Georges University; Alden March Bioethics Institute

Amanda West


Date Written: January 1, 2014


Since 2009, Professor Pope has authored a quarterly "Legal Briefing" column for the Journal of Clinical Ethics. Each briefing comprehensively reviews legal developments concerning a particular issue in clinical bioethics. The Journal of Clinical Ethics owns the exclusive copyright to distribute the full-text content.

This issue’s “Legal Briefing” column covers recent legal developments involving voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED). Over the past decade, clinicians and bioethicists have increasingly recognized VSED as a medically and ethically appropriate means to hasten death. Most recently, in September 2013, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) called on its 2,000 member hospices to develop policies and guidelines addressing VSED. And VSED is getting more attention not only in healthcare communities, but also in the general public. For example, VSED was recently highlighted on the front page of the New York Times and in other national and local media.

Nevertheless, despite the growing interest in VSED, there remains little on-point legal authority and only sparse bioethics literature analyzing its legality. This article aims to fill this gap. Specifically, we focus on new legislative, regulatory, and judicial acts that clarify the permissibility of VSED. We categorize these legal developments into the following seven categories: 1. Definition of VSED; 2. Uncertainty Whether Oral Nutrition and Hydration Are Medical Treatment; 3. Uncertainty Regarding Providers’ Obligations to Patients Who Choose VSED; 4. Judicial Guidance from Australia; 5. Judicial Guidance from the United Kingdom; 6. Judicial Guidance from Canada; 7. Case of Margot Bentley.

Keywords: Legal Briefing, VSED, voluntarily stopping eating, voluntarily stopping drinking, eat, drink, hospice, healthcare, bioethics, legality, oral nutrition, medical treatment, patient, death, dying, Margot Bentley, ethics

JEL Classification: H51, I1, I11, I12, I18, I31, K32, K3, K1

Suggested Citation

Pope, Thaddeus Mason and West, Amanda, Legal Briefing: Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking (January 1, 2014). Journal of Clinical Ethics, Vol. 25, No. 1 (2014), Available at SSRN:

Thaddeus Mason Pope (Contact Author)

Mitchell Hamline School of Law ( email )

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Queensland University of Technology - Australian Health Law Research Center ( email )

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Brisbane, Queensland 4000

Saint Georges University ( email )

West Indies


Alden March Bioethics Institute ( email )

47 New Scotland Ave
MC 153
Albany, NY 12208
United States


Amanda West

Independent ( email )

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