The Right to Refuse Medical Treatment

Commenting on my earlier post in support of changing the law on assisted suicide at least in the case of a physically incapacitated individual who wishes to die but has no realistic way of achieving that objective for himself, ‘Mark in Spokane’ makes the following point:

Ah, the “million-dollar baby” scenario. Except that any person in such a situation, so long as they are mentally competent, already has the legal right — recognized both constitutionally and at common law — to refuse medical treatment. For example, if an individual is on a ventilator and does not wish to be, they can refuse further treatment with the ventilator. That is already provided for in the law, and there is no need to go changing things to allow for a “right to suicide” (which really means, “a right to get help committing suicide”).

Unfortunately, Mark’s argument only works in the case of the patient who is dependent on constant medical support (that ventilator, say) to keep him alive. There will be other patients able to linger on for quite some time without medical assistance. As matters currently stand, their only options are either to wait for nature to take its course-however long that might take-or to try to starve themselves to death. Neither alternative strikes me as particularly humane.

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