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 and there is no Advance Care Directive, a substitute decision-maker will be required to make the treatment decision.

The following pages explore Australia's laws relating to:

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

Australia’s laws on Capacity and consent to medical treatment are discussed here.