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Withdrawal of or Withholding Medical Treatment

An individual has a constitutional right to request the withdrawal or withholding of medical treatment, even if to do so will result in the person's death. Honoring a person's right to refuse medical treatment, especially at the end of life, is the most widely practiced and widely accepted right to die policy in our society. Most medical, legal, and ethical authorities agree that no ethical distinction exists between an individual's request to have life-sustaining treatment removed and a request to withhold this treatment. 

An individual's right to refuse treatment is still valid when he or she becomes incompetent. All 50 states authorize the use of a written advance medical directive to help honor the decisions of those who are not able to speak for themselves but who have recorded their wishes in an appropriate legal document. The living will and the medical power of attorney are examples of these documents.

Competence Defined

Many operational definitions of competence have been proposed, but non has universal acceptance. The US President's Commission on Ethics in medicine suggested that competence requires all of the following:

Karen Quinlan



Nancy Cruzan

Cruzan family appealed the decision - June 25, 1990 US. Supreme Court recognized the right to die as a constitutionally protected liberty interest