The unbridled use of modern medical skills and technology in preserving life at all costs has stimulated interest in expressing a 'right to die' by the legally competent patient who is anxious to protect his autonomy. Some recent decisions by American courts are seen to threaten this 'right to die' of competent patients and imply that legally incompetent patients including children should not have this right under any circumstances, even when expressed on their behalf by guardians, nearest relatives or parents. It is argued that this is contrary to 'natural justice' as viewed by most people. It should be possible to develop procedures which are protective of the basic 'right to life' of the incompetent yet will recognise circumstances where they could be allowed to die. This paper was presented at the 1983 annual conference of the London Medical Group, 'Human Rights in Medicine'.
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