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Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 1992 Dec;2(4):309-45.

The legal consensus about foregoing life-sustaining treatment: its status and its prospects.

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Center for Medical Ethics, University of Pittsburgh School of Law.


The legal consensus that has evolved through adjudication and legislation since the Karen Quinlan case in 1976 is founded on the premise that there is a bright line between passive euthanasia and active euthanasia. Indeed, the term passive euthanasia is often eschewed in favor of less emotionally-laden terminology such as "forgoing life-sustaining treatment" or "terminating life support" so as to further sever any possible connection with active euthanasia. Legal approval has been bestowed upon passive euthanasia under certain circumstances while active euthanasia is routinely condemned. This consensus was put to a test in 1990 when the United States Supreme Court ruled on the Cruzan case. However, the Court's narrow decision did not upset the consensus, and in the most significant appellate decisions handed down by state courts since Cruzan, there has been a reaffirmation--and possibly even an extension--of the consensus. Two other threats to the legal consensus about forgoing life-sustaining treatment have begun to manifest themselves: the increasing pressure for mercy killing and "futility" cases. Both of these challenge the fundamental premises on which the consensus is grounded.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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