Original Research

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 363-377

First online:

Confronting Death in Legal Disputes About Treatment-Limitation in Children

  • Kristin SavellAffiliated withSydney Law School, University of Sydney Email author 

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Most legal analyses of selective nontreatment of seriously ill children centre on the question of whether it is in a child’s best interests to be kept alive in the face of extreme suffering and/or an intolerable quality of life. Courts have resisted any direct confrontation with the question of whether the child’s death is in his or her best interests. Nevertheless, representations of death may have an important role to play in this field of jurisprudence. The prevailing philosophy is to configure death as a release from a futile or painful existence and/or as a dignified end in an objectively hopeless situation. However, there can be disagreement about the meaning of death in these settings. Some parents object that death would be premature or that it represents a culpable neglect of their child. A closer examination of these discordant interpretations allows for a better comprehension of the cultural understandings that underscore clinical and legal accounts of death following end-of-life decisions.


Death and dying Treatment-limitation in children Parental opposition Good death Legal responsibility for death Personhood and disability