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J Law Med. 2018 Oct;26(1):214-245.

Providing Palliative Care at the End of Life: Should Health Professionals Fear Regulation?

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Professor, Director, Australian Centre for Health Research, Faculty of Law QUT.
Director, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Faculty of Law QUT.
Senior Lecturer, Management and Organisational Studies, UNE Business School, University of New England.
Head of School of Nursing, School of Nursing QUT.
Professor of General Practice and Palliative Care, Faculty of Medicine, University of Queensland.
Professor of Palliative Medicine, Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney.


Anecdotal evidence from Australia and abroad suggests that health professionals may fear potential legal and/or professional repercussions if their patient dies after receiving pain relieving medication at the end of life. As a result, patients may be under-medicated and their pain and other symptoms not adequately relieved. The regulatory repercussions from inappropriate administration of medications are potentially broad and include criminal charges, civil negligence claims, coronial investigations and disciplinary proceedings. But despite these potentially serious repercussions, a review of publicly available cases in Australia reveals there has been comparatively little judicial or quasi-judicial scrutiny where over-medication is alleged to have resulted in a patient's death. In this article, we describe the regulatory framework that governs this field of medical practice and analyse the extent to which the actions of health professionals have been scrutinised, and the consequences of that scrutiny. We identify a number of themes arising from this analysis and conclude that fears of legal or professional repercussions are largely unfounded, and that existing laws and other forms of regulation should not inhibit the prescription and administration of adequate pain and other symptom relief to people at the end of life.


Schedule 8 drugs; disciplinary proceedings; doctrine of double effect; end of life care; end of life law; inadequate pain relief; legal repercussions; palliative care; regulation of pain medication


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