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This article is concerned with the legal right of health service providers to decide whether to provide life-prolonging treatment to patients. In particular, an examination of recent decisions by the English Court of Appeal in R (Burke) v General Medical Council (Official Solicitor and Others Intervening) [2005] EWCA Civ 1003 and the European Court of Human Rights in Burke v United Kingdom (unreported, ECHR, No 19807/06, 11 July 2006) is provided. An analysis of Australian case law is undertaken together with a consideration of the limits of a patient's legal right of autonomy in relation to choosing life-prolonging medical treatment; the basis upon which such treatment can be legally withdrawn or withheld from an incompetent patient against the patient's earlier expressed wishes that it should be continued or initiated; the concept in ethics and law of a patient's best interests; and the role of courts in adjudicating disputes about the continuation of treatment in light of the recent decisions.


Journal article


J Law Med

Publication Date





583 - 596


Australia, Humans, Life Support Care, United Kingdom