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Does Withdrawing Life-Sustaining Treatment Cause Death or Allow the Patient to Die?

Posted Jan 22 2014 11:46am
Andrew McGree , at QUT Law, has just published "Does Withdrawing Life-Sustaining Treatment Cause Death or Allow the Patient to Die?" in  Medical Law Review .  Here is his abstract:

This article discusses recent arguments of Franklin Miller and Robert Truog about withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and causation. The authors argue that traditional medical ethics, and the law, are mistaken to take the view that withdrawal merely allows the patient to die, rather than causing the patient's death, describing such a view as ‘patently false’. They argue that the law's continued position to the contrary stems from a moral bias, resulting in the moral and legal fiction that withdrawal does not cause death but lets the patient die. In so arguing, Miller and Truog join a long line of academic criticism of the law that extends back to the seminal decision of Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] AC 789 (HL) and beyond. 

In this article, I take issue with these claims. I argue that there are reasonable grounds upon which traditional medical ethics and the law can regard withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment as allowing the patient to die rather than causing death, and so the authors' claims that such a view is patently false cannot be sustained. 

I then tease out the implications of my conclusions for the authors' claim that there is not such a great distinction between withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment, euthanasia, and assisted dying. I conclude by discussing some possible objections to my own view.

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