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

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Medical Futility, End of Life Decision-Making, Withholding and Withdrawal of Life-Sustaining Medical Treatment, Adult Guardianship Law, Australia, New Zealand, Duty to Treat


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.