Other questions Once a medical treatment is started, can it be stopped?
Yes. There is no legal or ethical difference between withholding and
withdrawing a medical treatment. Therefore, people who may want to try a
potentially helpful treatment can do so without fear that, once started, it
could not be removed. Professional organizations such as the American Medical
Association, as well as the courts, have affirmed that it is ethical to
discontinue medical treatments that do not benefit the patient. If the patient
no longer wants a treatment, for any reason, providers are legally obligated to
In practice, however, caregivers might resist withdrawing a treatment once
it has begun. A caregiver might believe he or she would be helping to cause
death, even though the patient's condition is irreversible. Also, caregivers
might be confused or misinformed about what the law requires and what
constitutes ethical practice. They might mistakenly believe they cannot stop
treatment, even with clear evidence that the patient would not want it. If a
physician refuses to end treatment, the patient or family should find out the
reason for the refusal.
Hannah Kalil is 83 years old, and lives by herself in upstate New York. She
has aides who help with her caregiving throughout the day. But the
responsibility of managing her finances, health care -- both mental and
physical -- and long-term living situation falls to one person: her daughter --
and my mother -- Eleanor.
It's almost a full-time job. Making sure my grandmother is happy and not
feeling lonely means daily visits. Her never-ending stream of medical issues
means weekly -- if not...
Do healthcare providers run any legal risk by honoring advance directives?
No. Most advance directive statutes state explicitly that providers run no
legal risk for honoring valid advance directives. No healthcare provider has
ever been successfully prosecuted for honoring a patient's request to stop
treatment. In fact, providers might run more legal risk when imposing treatment
against a person's or healthcare agent's wishes.
What if my healthcare provider will not honor my advance directives?
In many states, healthcare providers can refuse to honor advance directives
for moral or religious reasons. Some of those states require such individuals
be removed from the case and transfer care of the patient to someone who will
honor the patient's request. But in practice a healthcare provider's refusal to
honor an advance directive can cause difficulties. For example, it may be hard
to find a physician or facility willing to accept the patient. For this reason,
it is important to ask in advance if a healthcare provider has personal views
or if an institution has any policy that would prevent them from honoring a
person's legal right to refuse treatment.