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J Law Med. 2005 Nov;13(2):223-9.

The Schiavo and Korp cases: conceptualising end-of-life decision-making.

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Faculty of Law, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic, Australia.


An incompetent, terminally ill patient can be viewed in two ways--as a person who is dying, when futile, life-prolonging treatment can be lawfully withdrawn; or a person with a disability, for whom a guardian must be appointed to decide about treatment. Terri Schiavo's husband took the first view and her parents the second. Maria Korp was regarded as dying when treatment was withdrawn. The difference in conceptualising a patient's situation is critical. Where a patient is dying, treatment can be lawfully withdrawn whatever the view of the relatives; they cannot require treatment to be continued. Where a patient has a disability and a surrogate decision-maker is appointed, the focus is on what the patient would have wanted in such circumstances, so that the surrogate can act in accordance with the patient's wishes. That deflects attention from the fundamental legal principle that whatever a patient or the relatives want, they are not legally entitled to demand treatment that doctors consider futile in the circumstances.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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