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Australia: Court Rules on Right to Refuse Nourishment

(Aug. 26, 2009) On August 14, 2009, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Western Australia determined that the right to refuse medical treatment includes the informed refusal of all nourishment, including liquids for hydration. (Right to Refuse Nourishment Judgment [Western Australia SC] (Draft Judgment), JURIST, Aug. 14, 2009, available at
; Draft Judgment, Supreme Court of Western Australia website, Aug. 14, 2009, available at

The case at hand involved Brightwater Care Group, which operates a residential care facility near Perth, Australia, for persons with disabilities, and Christian Rossiter, who was in the care of that facility from November 2008. Rossiter had suffered a number of injuries from a series of accidents over many years and as a result was a quadriplegic, with extremely limited motion and speech. He was not expected to recover in any way and was experiencing declining vision, yet was not terminally ill. His nutrition and hydration needs were met through a stomach tube. He had indicated his desire to end his life and asked to have all nutrition and hydration efforts ended, except for whatever hydration was necessary for the delivery of pain medication. (Draft Judgment, id.)

As far as Brightwater and Rossiter's doctor were concerned, the issue was whether they were legally obliged to comply with Rossiter's directive or whether they were legally obliged to continue providing life-sustaining services. (Id.)

The draft opinion carefully limited the case, stating that it was not an issue of euthanasia or the right to die in general, but rather only about the legal obligations of a care provider for a mentally competent patient who wishes to discontinue treatment. (Id.)

The judgment concluded that, based on the common law, Rossiter had the right to determine the extent of continuing treatment he received and that Brightwater “is under a legal obligation to comply” with his wishes. There would be no question of a breach of legal obligation resulting from the provision of palliative care, in the form of analgesics, as long as that care did not hasten his death. (Id.; see also Brightwater Care Group (Inc.) and Christian Rossiter, and Attorney-General for Western Australia case proceedings, Supreme Court of Western Australia website, Aug. 14, 2009, available at