Unilateral Withholding and Withdrawl of Potentially Life-Sustaining Treatment: A Violation of Dignity Under the Law in Canada

Document Type


Publication Date



Life-Sustaining Treatment, Dignity, Do Not Resuscitate, Canada, Legal Authority, Policy Proposal


In this paper, I review Canadian law in relation to the unilateral withholding or withdrawal of potentially life-saving treatment, and I look at such questions as whether physicians are legally permitted to unilaterally put a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order on a patient's chart. I explore who has the legal authority in Canada to decide on withholding and withdrawal of potentially life-sustaining treatment, and I conclude that unilateral withholding and withdrawal is a violation of strong social commitment to dignity as it is understood and reflected in the law by the Supreme Court of Canada. I then offer a concrete proposal for institutional policy with respect to unilateral withholding and withdrawal of treatment in light of the law.