The Right to Refuse

By Kathryn Reiser


The rights and duties of the patient and the physician regarding the option of life-sustaining treatment is a hotly contested issue in American healthcare. When a patient suffers from severe disability or terminal illness, the patient’s quality of life may be so far reduced as to drive him or her to decide against such treatment. This scenario is not uncommon and it presents an ethical dilemma to the physician, who may be torn between his sympathy for the patient, his moral obligations as a healthcare professional, and his own personal beliefs. In this article, Kathryn Reiser explores arguments for and against the patient’s autonomy in this mater, arguing that with very few exceptions, the patient is entitled to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment and is not obligated to justify his or her decision.

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