Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Terminal Condition Definition:

An incurable and irreversible condition caused by injury, disease, or illness that would cause death within a reasonable period of time in accordance with accepted medical standards, and where the application of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to prolong the process of dying.

Related Terms: Heroic Measures, Permanent Unconscious Condition, Living Will, Euthanasia, Extraordinary Life-Sustaining Treatment

Sometimes referred to as a terminal illness.

A term used in law mostly in the medical-legal context and complex end-of-life decisions, especially the application of living wills or healthcare directives that dirfect health care in the event of a "terminal condition". Of course, life itself is a terminal condition as are many medical conditions if left untreated; for example, diabetes. Thus, the term terminal condition has been refined in the legal context to fit real near- or end-of-life sitations.

In the living will provisions at Title 70 of the Revised Statutes of Washington 2013, §70.122.030:

"If at any time I should be diagnosed in writing to be in a terminal condition by the attending physician, or in a permanent unconscious condition by two physicians, and where the application of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to artificially prolong the process of my dying, I direct that such treatment be withheld or withdrawn, and that I be permitted to die naturally.

"I understand by using this form that a terminal condition means an incurable and irreversible condition caused by injury, disease, or illness, that would within reasonable medical judgment cause death within a reasonable period of time in accordance with accepted medical standards, and where the application of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to prolong the process of dying.

end of life word cloud

The Natural Death Act of South Australia 1983 defines a terminal illness as follows:

"Terminal illness means any illness, injury or degeneration of mental or physical faculties (a) such that death would, if extraordinary measures were not undertaken, be imminent; and (b) from which there is no reasonable prospect of a temporary or permanent recovery, even if extraordinary measures were undertaken."

In their 1997 article, Leng and Huey describe the definition of a terminal illness in Singapore statutes as follows:

"Terminal illness is defined as an incurable condition caused by injury or disease from which there is no reasonable prospect of a temporary or permanent recovery where death would within reasonable medical judgment be imminent regardless of the application of extraordinary life-sustaining treatment and the application of such treatment would only serve to postpone the moment of death of the patient."

A 1994 report of a committee of the English House of Lords used these words to describe a terminal illness:

".... an illness which is inevitably progressive, the effect of which cannot be reversed by treatment although
treatment may be successful in relieving symptoms temporarily and
which will inevitably result in death within a few months at most. It
may be distinguished from irreversible illnesses for example, cerebral
palsy or spina bifida which are not progressive and do not necessary
lead to death and from chronic progressive diseases for example,
rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis, in which early death is not
inevitable, though deterioration is"."1

REFERENCES:

  • Leng, Ter Kah, Sy, Susanna Leong Huey, Advanced Medical Directives in Singapore, 5 Med. L. Rev. 63 (1997)
  • Natural Death Act, 1983, No. 121 of 1983, South Australia
  • Report of the Select Committee on Medical Ethics, Vol. I - Report (H.M.S.O. London) January 1994, note 12 at ¶30.

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