Handbook for Mortals : Questions and Answers About Advance Directives : Is it legal to refuse life-sustaining treatment?

Every American has the right to choose not to have any particular medical treatment. How do courts define "medical treatment?" When people become unable to breathe on their own, or unable to eat solid foods or drink liquids, they are sometimes put on a respirator to assist breathing or are given nutrients through tubes. Courts have defined these as "medical treatments" and have ruled that patients and families may decline to use them. Some people may consider it invasive or unnatural to have tubes inserted or to be hooked up to machinery. Others believe that if something can be done to extend their lives, they want it to be done. These are personal decisions that we have the right to make for ourselves.

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Keywords: Advance care planning, respirators, tube feeding, refusing life-sustaining treatment
Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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