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Withdrawal of Life Sustaining Treatment

Withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment has been an extremely controversial issue for a long time. Half of the international community sees it as an act of mercy, while another believes that this act is murder in its nature. To decide which is which, one should consider a range of circumstances: the patient’s consent, the consent of a patient’s representative, and so on.

The case described by Fry, Veatch, Taylor, & Taylor (2011) requires critical thinking because it can be viewed from different perspectives. Treatment is usually disconnected if there is no hope of recovery and “treatment has been agreed by key parties to be futile” (Birchley & Cejer, 2012, p. 43). I tend to stick to this approach, and thus I believe that Ms. Robaczynski killed Mr. Gessner. According to Fry et al. (2011), the police could not find the evidence to prove that the patient had refused the respirator or anyone else representing him had done so. Withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment involves “removing the endotracheal tube, stopping artificial ventilation, vasoactive medication and other organ support such as haemofiltration,” so technically Ms. Robaczynski killed Mr. Gessner even if she had the best of intentions (Birchley & Cejer, 2012, p. 43).

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Some people agree that Ms. Robaczynski’s actions would have been viewed differently if the patient had asked to be disconnected from the respirator. I consider this question to be very challenging. If the patient has provided the nurse with his or her consent to be disconnected, then these actions are to be treated as a hard part of the job. As for me, I believe that withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment is murder in its nature, no matter what the circumstances are. Nevertheless, I would not see Ms. Robaczynski as a killer if she had the patient’s consent.

Thus, we see that withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment is a complicated issue that can be seen both as an act of mercy and as a murder. Nurses are expected to have the patient’s consent and manager’s approval, while the case itself requires taking into account all circumstances.


Birchley, G., & Cejer, B. (2012). Nurses as withdrawers of life-sustaining treatment in paediatric intensive care. Nursing In Critical Care18(1), 43-51.

Fry, S. T., Veatch, R. M., Taylor, C., & Taylor, C. R. (2011). Case studies in nursing ethics. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.