Document Type


Publication Date



This Article discusses the limits of how end of life law can address threats to patient autonomy. The reluctance of physicians, patients and family to discuss end of life matters and to confront the certainty of death, together with a culture that actively denies the aging process itself, interferes with a patient’s ability to exercise choice as death approaches. Thus, patients often suffer needlessly from the continuation of treatments and life-supportive measures that they would choose to decline if better informed about their choices and the importance of choosing. Advance directives, as a legal mechanism, often fail fully to protect a patient’s choices; however, they have inherent value in that they encourage patients to confront the dying process and to have meaningful conversations with their physicians, attorneys, and relatives. The Author concludes that, although advance directives often have minimal impact on decision making at the end of life, they should still be used to direct a patient’s attention to exercising his or her choice over how to die and how to enhance remaining life.

Recommended Citation

Barbara A. Noah, A Role for Law in Preparing for Death, TRUSTS & ESTATES, Sept. 2014, at 55.