January 1985

Legal Aspects of Withdrawing Nourishment From an Incurably Ill Patient

Arch Intern Med. 1985;145(1):125-128. doi:10.1001/archinte.1985.00360010161026

Three recent court decisions, whose holdings are difficult to reconcile, have confronted the legality of withdrawing nourishment from an incurably ill patient.1 An illness may well be incurable, but not necessarily terminal. Terminal is used herein to mean a condition that will directly and inexorably result in death within the forseeable future. If the condition is also incurable, then death will result regardless of whether medical treatment is undertaken or not. Using these definitions, it seems that none of the three cases discussed herein involved both an incurable and terminal condition, but rather only an incurable condition that might at some point become terminal. Before these three cases are discussed, consideration should be given to the arguments that have been advanced for and against allowing nourishment, at times, to be withdrawn from incurably ill patients.

ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST CONTINUING NOURISHMENT  Arguments or justifications for continuing patient nourishment, commonly

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