Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics

Denial of Life-Saving Medical Treatment

Protecting the right to choose life

Advance care planning refers to counseling potential patients on whether to accept or reject life-preserving medical treatment and advising on legal documents embodying that decision.

It is good to help people to prepare advance directives, like National Right to Life’s Will to Live, that set forth treatment decisions based on what are genuinely their own values and preferences. Tragically, however, advance care planning is in practice too often less about discovering and facilitating personal wishes and more about “nudging” patients to reject life-saving measures and accept premature death.

Particularly ardent advocates and practitioners have openly made clear their motivation to limit health-care spending and impose a “quality of life” ethic. Frequently, patients are provided with “decision aids” that paint slanted and negative images of the quality of life if one’s life is preserved; potential side effects of treatment are emphasized (sometimes with factual inaccuracies), while the effects of its withholding or withdrawal are ignored or downplayed.

To help offset such pressure, National Right to Life supports enactment of the Medicare Choices Empowerment and Protection Act, introduced during the 116th Congress. Among other tools to protect the right to choose life, the act would provide equal access to pro-treatment advance directives, such as National Right to Life’s Will to Live, under Medicare.