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Courts in England and Wales, Australia, and New Zealand have insisted the question of when it is acceptable to withdraw or withhold life-sustaining medical treatment from a child must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Over the last 40 years a number of cases have considered whether treatment is objectively in the child's best interests. This article seeks to identify whether there are factors identified and weighed in a consistent manner across cases. Thirty cases involving decisions about the provision of life-sustaining medical treatment to children three years old or younger were identified. Judges regularly refer to the need to weigh benefits and burdens and these factors were identified and assigned scores. Eight key factors were identified, and a scoring range was assigned to each. The factors focus on the condition and position of the child and the burdens of invasive medical treatment. The review demonstrates there are factors consistently identified and despite criticisms of the indeterminacy of the best interests test, there may be a broadly consistent approach to decision-making. Cognitive capacity and unavoidably imminent death appear to be the two most influential factors in determining whether life-sustaining treatment should be provided.


Journal article


J Law Med

Publication Date





192 - 210


best interests, child, futility, life-sustaining treatment, parens patriae, withdrawing treatment, withholding treatment