Title

The Wendland Case - Withdrawing Life Support from Incompetent Patients Who Are Not Terminally Ill

Publication Title

New England Journal of Medicine

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

5-9-2002

Abstract

Almost all patients want their family members to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment for them if they become incompetent.1,2 Asking family members to make such decisions is standard clinical practice and has strong ethical justification.3-5 However, dilemmas arise when family members disagree about life-sustaining treatment.

In an important, unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court sharply restricted the authority of a patient's wife, who was also her husband's conservator, to limit life-sustaining interventions in the face of opposition from the patient's mother.6 Unlike most incompetent patients for whom decisions must be made about life-sustaining interventions, this patient was conscious and was expected to survive for many years if the interventions were continued. If the ruling in this case were extended to other clinical situations, a patient could be subjected to burdensome interventions that offered little clinical benefit and that the patient might well not have wanted.

Almost all patients want their family members to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment for them if they become incompetent.1,2 Asking family members to make such decisions is standard clinical practice and has strong ethical justification.3-5 However, dilemmas arise when family members disagree about life-sustaining treatment.

In an important, unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court sharply restricted the authority of a patient's wife, who was also her husband's conservator, to limit life-sustaining interventions in the face of opposition from the patient's mother.6 Unlike most incompetent patients for whom decisions must be made about life-sustaining interventions, this patient was conscious and was expected to survive for many years if the interventions were continued. If the ruling in this case were extended to other clinical situations, a patient could be subjected to burdensome interventions that offered little clinical benefit and that the patient might well not have wanted. Almost all patients want their family members to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment for them if they become incompetent.1,2 Asking family members to make such decisions is standard clinical practice and has strong ethical justification.3-5 However, dilemmas arise when family members disagree about life-sustaining treatment. In an important, unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court sharply restricted the authority of a patient's wife, who was also her husband's conservator, to limit life-sustaining interventions in the face of opposition from the patient's mother.6 Unlike most incompetent patients for whom decisions must be made about life-sustaining interventions, this patient was conscious and was expected to survive for many years if the interventions were continued. If the ruling in this case were extended to other clinical situations, a patient could be subjected to burdensome interventions that offered little clinical benefit and that the patient might well not have wanted. Almost all patients want their family members to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment for them if they become incompetent.1,2 Asking family members to make such decisions is standard clinical practice and has strong ethical justification.3-5 However, dilemmas arise when family members disagree about life-sustaining treatment. In an important, unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court sharply restricted the authority of a patient's wife, who was also her husband's conservator, to limit life-sustaining interventions in the face of opposition from the patient's mother.6 Unlike most incompetent patients for whom decisions must be made about life-sustaining interventions, this patient was conscious and was expected to survive for many years if the interventions were continued. If the ruling in this case were extended to other clinical situations, a patient could be subjected to burdensome interventions that offered little clinical benefit and that the patient might well not have wanted. Almost all patients want their family members to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment for them if they become incompetent.1,2 Asking family members to make such decisions is standard clinical practice and has strong ethical justification.3-5 However, dilemmas arise when family members disagree about life-sustaining treatment. In an important, unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court sharply restricted the authority of a patient's wife, who was also her husband's conservator, to limit life-sustaining interventions in the face of opposition from the patient's mother.6 Unlike most incompetent patients for whom decisions must be made about life-sustaining interventions, this patient was conscious and was expected to survive for many years if the interventions were continued. If the ruling in this case were extended to other clinical situations, a patient could be subjected to burdensome interventions that offered little clinical benefit and that the patient might well not have wanted.

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External Links
Web

Recommended Citation

Bernard Lo, et al., The Wendland Case - Withdrawing Life Support from Incompetent Patients Who Are Not Terminally Ill, 346 New Eng. J. Med. 1489 (2002).

DOI

10.1056/NEJM200205093461912

Volume

346

Issue

19

First Page

1489

Last Page

1493

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