Is the patient's right to die evolving into a duty to die? Medical decision making and ethical evaluations in health care

Charles L. Sprung, Leonid A. Eidelman, Avraham Steinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


When patient or family requests for continued life-sustaining treatments conflict with doctor recommendations, different conclusions as to what is beneficial for the patient may arise. Past practices usually accepted patient or family requests based on the principle of autonomy or that the doctor's primary responsibility is to the individual patient. Many patients die in intensive care units after doctors forego life-prolonging interventions. Health care changes and cost containment have led to a change in the classical ethical model of the patient-doctor relationship such that concerns for societal requirements increasingly overrule those for individual patient needs. The ability to keep patients alive with little likelihood of recovery and the recognition of escalating health costs have led to calls for the needs of society and distributive justice to be taken into account. A tendency to justify a duty to die for these patients has arisen. Recent legal decisions in cases with conflicts between families and health care providers and institutions over foregoing life-sustaining therapies have decided for the families against doctors and hospitals, compelling institutions and their staff to act contrary to their ethical views. Value judgments of doctors are sometimes confused with medical indications for therapy. Doctors have defined therapies as futile or non-beneficial based on their own values and even withdrawn life-sustaining treatments without patient or family input. In some cases, the right to die is leading to the duty to die even against patient or surrogate wishes. Such observations indicate the need for rigorous analyses of medical decision making in this context and for ethical evaluations in health care in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-75
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Doctor-patient relationship
  • Duty to die
  • Futility
  • Medical ethics
  • Medical responsibility
  • Societal needs


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