Withholding and Withdrawing Life-Sustaining Treatment: Ethically Equivalent?

American Journal of Bioethics 19 (3):10-20 (2019)
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Withholding and withdrawing treatment are widely regarded as ethically equivalent in medical guidelines and ethics literature. Health care personnel, however, widely perceive moral differences between withholding and withdrawing. The proponents of equivalence argue that any perceived difference can be explained in terms of cognitive biases and flawed reasoning. Thus, policymakers should clear away any resistance to accept the equivalence stance by moral education. To embark on such a campaign of changing attitudes, we need to be convinced that the ethical analysis is correct. Is it? In this article, I take a closer look at the moral relation between withholding and withdrawing. My conclusion is that withholding and withdrawing are not in general ethically equivalent. Thus, medical guidelines should be rewritten, and rather than being “educated” away from their sound judgments, medical professionals and patients should have nuanced medico-ethical discussions regarding withholding and withdrawing treatment.



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Principles of biomedical ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1989 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by James F. Childress.
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