Vanderbilt Law Review

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During the past decade, right to die cases rose to the forefront of both public and judicial attention. These cases primarily focused on defining an individual's right to stop maintenance medical care' or on the rights of a guardian to discontinue treatment of an incompetent patient. Liability concerns centered on potential civil or criminal liability for hospitals and physicians that effectuated the wishes of a patient or her family. Today, with the rights of individuals relatively well established, it is important to consider those situations in which a health care provider does not comply with an individual's wish to terminate life support. Be- cause the right to die has gained widespread acceptance only recently, the courts have yet to give adequate consideration to liability for failure to respect this right. Only a handful of cases addresses the issues of improper initiation or continuation of life support. Similarly, although many states have enacted living will or natural death statutes, few of these statutes adequately contemplate possible problems that arise when a physician or hospital willfully or negligently ignores an individual's wishes. The recently enacted Patient Self-Determination Act forces hospitals and physicians to confront the many difficult issues surrounding living wills and advance directives. This heightened awareness will force the legal community to give more thoughtful and comprehensive consideration to advance directives and the issues which surround them. The possibility of such conflicts is not solely theoretical. For example, consider the situation in which an ambulance brings the victim of an automobile accident to a-hospital with a pro-life orientation. The patient's condition deteriorates, and although the patient's living will states that she does not want to be supported by artificial means, in the process of treating the patient, the attending physician connects her to a ventilator. If the physician or hospital cannot disconnect the machine in good conscience, the patient will receive treatment against her will.

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