J Med Ethics 14:82-86 doi:10.1136/jme.14.2.82
  • Research Article

Legislative hazard: keeping patients living, against their wills.

  1. L L Heintz
  1. University of Hawaii, Hilo.


      Natural death act legislation which is intended to assist patients who wish to refuse or limit medical treatment may actually erode patients' rights. By use of a 'living will' the legislation intends to extend the patients' role in decision-making to the time when patients can no longer speak for themselves. However, the legislation erodes and constricts the right of refusal. The erosion is the result of two sets of conditions found in the legislation. The first requires that the patient be qualified and certified by others before interventions can be withdrawn or withheld. The second delineates the physical condition which must be present before a living will can be followed. Patients have had to seek the assistance of the courts to enforce their common law rights of refusal of treatment against these requirements. Legislation is needed, but greater care must be taken to avoid the creation of a Kafkaesque legal nightmare for those we intend to assist.

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