Withholding and Withdrawing Life-Sustaining Medical Treatment
In White, Benjamin P., McDonald, Fiona, & Willmott, Lindy (Eds.) Health Law in Australia. Thomson Reuters Australia, Sydney, pp. 449-490, 2010
Posted: 19 Jul 2016
Date Written: 2010
• At common law, a competent adult can refuse life-sustaining medical treatment, either contemporaneously or through an advance directive which will operate at a later time when the adult’s capacity is lost.
• Legislation in most Australian jurisdictions also provides for a competent adult to complete an advance directive that refuses life-sustaining medical treatment.
• At common law, a court exercising its parens patriae jurisdiction can consent to, or authorise, the withdrawal or withholding of life-sustaining medical treatment from an adult or child who lacks capacity if that is in the best interests of the person. A court may also declare that the withholding or withdrawal of treatment is lawful.
• Guardianship legislation in most jurisdictions allows a substitute decision-maker, in an appropriate case, to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment for an adult who lacks capacity.
• In terms of children, a parent may refuse life-sustaining medical treatment for his or her child if it is in the child’s best interests.
• While a refusal of life-sustaining medical treatment by a competent child may be valid, this decision can be overturned by a court.
• At common law and generally under guardianship statutes, demand for futile treatment need not be complied with by doctors.
Keywords: Health law, Medical law, Adult guardianship, End of life decision-making, Withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment
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