It’s legal to withhold life-sustaining medical treatment

This article was updated on April 25, 2023. It discusses the right to withhold life-sustaining medical treatment for yourself or another.

It’s legal. You’re allowed to say ‘no’ to medical treatment. And if you’re the person responsible, you’re allowed to say no on behalf of the person you’re responsible for.

But there’s still confusion about this – both in the broader community, in hospitals and nursing home. So let’s unpack it.

Actually, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. ELDAC has produced a really good, easy to read fact sheet about this, which will do the unpacking for us. It’s easy to download – and easy to follow.

ELDAC stands for ‘End of Life Directions for Aged Care’. It is Australia’s national specialist palliative care and advance care planning advisory service, which is supported by all Australia’s major teaching hospitals – even the most conservative ones.

Here are two of its ‘mythbusters’ around the right to withhold life-sustaining medical treatment. They’re very helpful.

“The law allows all adults with capacity to decide what is, or is not done to their bodies. They can consent to or refuse medical treatment. Therefore, a person can refuse medical treatment even if that treatment is needed to keep them alive.”


“Withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment is an accepted and common part of
medical practice. It will be lawful, provided any necessary consents are obtained. When life sustaining treatment is withheld or withdrawn, the person is considered to have died naturally from their medical condition or disease.”

To download ELDAC’s simple, easy to read sheet about this, go to:

To find out more about ELDAC, go to:

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