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J Law Med. 2011 Jun;18(4):811-9.

Refusing medical treatment after attempted suicide: rethinking capacity and coercive treatment in light of the Kerrie Wooltorton case.

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  • 1Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney.


The inquest into the death of Kerrie Wooltorton in Norfolk, England, ignited extensive public debate on the scope of the common law right to refuse medical treatment where a patient is distressed, depressed or actively suicidal. In Australia, a patient's wishes need not be honoured if the patient is not legally competent, if he or she falls within the ambit of the compulsory treatment provisions in the mental health legislation, and possibly also if there is a recognised public interest in preventing suicide which is sufficient to override the patient's choice. This article argues that decisions about whether to give medical treatment despite an apparent refusal should be based solely on a determination of the patient's competence to make their own choice. However, the test for legal competence must take into account the person's agency in making the decision, and decisions which will effectively end the person's life must be shown to be thought through.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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