The Position in Practice: Doctors' Practices and the Law Applied
It is evident from the preceding chapters, that there is, in law, a significant distinction between passive and active euthanasia. The position is that passive euthanasia can in certain circumstances be lawfully performed. Conduct constituting passive euthanasia (that is, the deliberate withholding or withdrawing of life-prolonging medical treatment with the object of hastening the patient's death) is in fact, widely practised by the medical profession and accepted as legitimate medical practice.1 In sharp contrast, with the exception of the Northern Territory of Australia,2 the law treats active voluntary euthanasia as murder, regardless of the special circumstances, and it is officially condemned by the medical profession. Similarly, a doctor's active involvement in a patient's suicide is unlawful and the practice is rejected by medical organizations.3 The Hippocratic Oath is often cited as evidence of the medical profession's long tradition of opposi-____________________
For the purposes of this work attention is focused on the liability of doctors. It is, however, acknowledged that medical decisions to withhold treatment with the intention of hastening death will usually be made by a doctor, but in practice, are often carried out by the attending nurse.