The Journal of Clinical Ethics




Legal Briefing: Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking

Thaddeus Mason Pope and Amanda West

The Journal of Clinical Ethics 25, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 68-80.



This issue’s "Legal Briefing" column covers recent legal developments involving voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED). Over the past decade, clinicians and bioethicists have increasingly recognized VSED as a medically and ethically appropriate means to hasten death. Most recently, in September 2013, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) called on its 2,000 member hospices to develop policies and guidelines addressing VSED. And VSED is getting more attention not only in healthcare communities, but also in the general public. For example, VSED was recently highlighted on the front page of the New York Times and in other national and local media. Nevertheless, despite the growing interest in VSED, there remains little on-point legal authority and only sparse bioethics literature analyzing its legality. This article aims to fill this gap. Specifically, we focus on new legislative, regulatory, and judicial acts that clarify the permissibility of VSED. We categorize these legal developments into the following seven categories:

1. Definition of VSED

2. Uncertainty Whether Oral Nutrition and Hydration Are Medical Treatment

3. Uncertainty Regarding Providers’ Obligations to Patients Who Choose VSED

4. Judicial Guidance from Australia

5. Judicial Guidance from the United Kingdom

6. Judicial Guidance from Canada

7. Case of Margot Bentley

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