August 1991

Legal Myths About Terminating Life Support

Author Affiliations

From the Center for Medical Ethics, University of Pittsburgh (Pa).

Arch Intern Med. 1991;151(8):1497-1502. doi:10.1001/archinte.1991.00400080013002

There are a number of myths about what the law permits concerning the termination of life support, some of which spring from a fundamental misconception of what law is. A serious misunderstanding of the law can lead to tragic results for physicians, health care institutions, patients, and families. These misunderstandings are (1) anything that is not specifically permitted by law is prohibited; (2) termination of life support is murder or suicide; (3) a patient must be terminally ill for life support to be stopped; (4) it is permissible to terminate extraordinary treatments, but not ordinary ones; (5) it is permissible to withhold treatment, but once started, it must be continued; (6) stopping tube feeding is legally different from stopping other treatments; (7) termination of life support requires going to court; and (8) living wills are not legal.

(Arch Intern Med. 1991;151:1497-1502)