Q10- Does declining medical treatment mean suicide?

Declining medical treatment doesn’t necessarily bring immediate death, and thus, is not considered suicide. Take the well-known Quinlan case for instance. Karen Ann Quinlan, 21, attended a friend's birthday party at a local bar, where she collapsed and stayed in a coma after consuming alcohol and diazepam because she had eaten almost nothing for two days. Her parents requested that she be disconnected from her ventilator to prevent her from further suffering, and their appeal was granted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1976. When Quinlan’s ventilator was removed, she surprised many by continuing to breathe unaided, and was fed by artificial nutrition for nine more years until her death from respiratory failure in 1985. Her case highlighted the subject of “dying well”, and promoted the legislation of protecting the patient’s autonomy to refuse unwanted medical treatments and to die with dignity.

Quinlan is not a unique case. There are many other patients who refuse or remove life-sustaining treatments (LST) and do not pass away immediately clinically; or even if they pass away, it is not caused by the lack of LST, but often is the natural progression of the patients’ disease. Thus, declining medical treatment does not mean suicide.