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Grasping the nettle—what to do when patients withdraw their consent for treatment: (a clinical perspective on the case of Ms B)
  1. M G Tweeddale
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M G Tweeddale, Clinical Director, Department of Critical Care Medicine, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, Portsmouth, PO6 3LY, UK; martin.tweeddale{at}


Withdrawal of active treatment is common in medical practice, especially in critical care medicine. Usually, however, it involves patients who are unable to take part in the decision making process. As the case of Ms B shows, doctors are sometimes reluctant to withdraw active treatment when the patient is awake and requesting such a course of action. In theory, having a competent patient should facilitate clinical decision making, so where does the problem arise? It is argued that latent medical paternalism may come to the surface when doctors are asked by patients to follow a course of action which is in conflict with their own perspective.

  • Law and medical ethics
  • end-of-life decisions
  • critical medicine
  • medical paternalism

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