HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mandela, End-of-Life Decisions and Family Disagreements

As Nelson Mandela's life may be nearing its end, his family may face difficult decisions about the use or withdrawal of artificial ventilation and other life-sustaining treatments. The New York Times reported on Friday how uncertainties in South African end-of-life law and political considerations may complicate the decision making process.

Unfortunately, as we've seen over and over in the United States, a factor that might make things especially difficult is the potential for disagreements among Mandela's family members. Many of the most important--and troubling--cases in the United States came to court when family members staked out different positions on a patient's end-of-life care. In the Schiavo case, for example, Terri Schiavo's husband believed she would not want to receive artificial nutrition and hydration while her parents believed she would.

According to the Times, Mandela's family "has shown itself to be fractious about decisions regarding inheritance, his eventual burial location and his legacy." Unfortunately, even when legislators have enacted good end-of-life statutes, family disagreements can preclude a dignified process for making life-sustaining treatment decisions for incapacitated patients. 

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