Withholding and Withdrawal of ‘Futile’ Life-Sustaining Treatment: Unilateral Medical Decision-Making in Australia and New Zealand

Journal of Law and Medicine, 20(4), pp. 907-924, 2013

19 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2016

See all articles by Lindy Willmott

Lindy Willmott

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law

Ben White

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law

Jocelyn Downie

Schulich School of Law & Faculty of Medicine

Date Written: 2013

Abstract

This article examines the law in Australia and New Zealand that governs the withholding and withdrawal of ‘futile’ life-sustaining treatment. Although doctors have both civil and criminal law duties to treat patients, those general duties do not require the provision of treatment that is deemed to be futile. This is either because futile treatment is not in a patient’s best interests or because stopping such treatment does not breach the criminal law. This means, in the absence of a duty to treat, doctors may unilaterally withdraw or withhold treatment that is futile; consent is not required. The article then examines whether this general position has been altered by statute. It considers a range of suggested possible legislation but concludes it is likely that only Queensland’s adult guardianship legislation imposes a requirement to obtain consent to withhold or withdraw such treatment.

Keywords: Medical futility, End of life decision-making, Withholding and withdrawal of life-sustaining medical treatment, Adult guardianship law, Health law, Medical law

Suggested Citation

Willmott, Lindy and White, Ben and Downie, Jocelyn, Withholding and Withdrawal of ‘Futile’ Life-Sustaining Treatment: Unilateral Medical Decision-Making in Australia and New Zealand (2013). Journal of Law and Medicine, 20(4), pp. 907-924, 2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2806814

Lindy Willmott

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, QLD 4000
Australia

HOME PAGE: http://staff.qut.edu.au/staff/willmott/

Ben White (Contact Author)

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, QLD 4000
Australia

HOME PAGE: http://staff.qut.edu.au/staff/whiteb/

Jocelyn Downie

Schulich School of Law & Faculty of Medicine ( email )

Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4H9
Canada

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