Center for Bioethics Papers

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

February 2005


Is there a distinction between withholding and withdrawing medical treatment at the end of life? In the past two decades, courts and bioethicists in most Western countries have rejected this distinction. However, some doctors, patients, and families still find the distinction to have important ethical implications. A proposed Israeli law offers a unique approach that attempts to respect the cultural reluctance to withdraw treatment while finding a practical solution that respects the wishes of patients and families and allows patients to end their lives with dignity. The Israeli case offers important insights for other countries that want to combine their cultural identity and heritage with democratic and liberal values as well as for doctors in Western countries caring for patients and families that espouse different communal cultural traditions.


Reprinted in British Medical Journal, Volume 330, February 2005, pages 415-417.
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NOTE: At the time of publication, author Vardit Ravitsky was affiliated with the National Institutes of Health. Currently March 2007, he is a faculty member in the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.



Date Posted: 13 March 2007

This document has been peer reviewed.