End of Life Law in Australia

Stopping Treatment

Decisions to withhold and withdraw life-sustaining treatment that will result in a person’s death can be extremely difficult for patients and their families, and also for health professionals. Yet these decisions are a mainstream part of medical practice, with almost 40,000 adult deaths occurring each year across Australia following a medical decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment.

Decision-making about life-sustaining treatment by a person who has capacity (and can decide what treatment to accept or refuse) is less complex than for a person who has lost capacity (this is known as impaired capacity). Where a person has impaired capacity, a substitute decision-maker must ‘stand in the shoes’ of the person and try to make the decision about treatment the person would have made if they could do so themselves.

The following pages explore Australia's laws relating to:

  • withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from adults,
  • substitute decision-making for adults,
  • futile or non-beneficial treatment,
  • emergency treatment, and
  • children and end of life decision-making.