End of Life Law in Australia

Northridge v Central Sydney Area Health Service (2000) 50 NSWLR 549

Northridge v Central Sydney Area Health Service [2000] NSWSC 1241

A man was admitted to hospital in an unconscious state. He had suffered brain damage after a cardiac arrest caused by a heroin overdose. Six days after admission his treating doctors decided to cease antibiotics and artificial nutrition, and not to resuscitate him should he suffer a cardiac arrest. The patient’s sister applied to the Supreme Court seeking an order that the patient be provided life-sustaining treatment.

The Court was critical of the decision to withdraw treatment, and concluded that the decision was made prematurely. Of significance was expert medical opinion critical of the approach taken by the patient’s treating doctors.

This case illustrates that though doctors are entitled to withhold or withdraw treatment that is not in a patient’s best interests, the Supreme Court can prevent the withdrawal of treatment where it may jeopardise the life, good health or welfare of an unconscious person.